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Course 765 - Managing Workplace Stress

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Job Stress Effects on Workers


Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, which responds by preparing the body for defensive action. The nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration, decrease appetite, and tense the muscles.

This response (sometimes called the fight or flight response) is important because it helps us defend against threatening situations. The response is preprogrammed biologically. Everyone responds in much the same way, regardless of whether the stressful situation is at work or home.

Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk. But when stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems. Ultimately, fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates.

Job Stress Ailments

warning signs

Many studies have looked at the relationship between job stress and a variety of ailments. Mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach and headache, and disturbed relationships with family and friends are examples of stress-related problems that are quick to develop and are commonly seen in these studies.

There are several warning signs of job stress. Here are just a few:

  • headache
  • sleep disturbances
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • short temper
  • upset stomach
  • job dissatisfaction
  • low morale

These early signs of job stress are usually easy to recognize. But the effects of job stress on chronic diseases are more difficult to see because chronic diseases take a long time to develop and can be influenced by many factors other than stress. Nonetheless, evidence is rapidly accumulating to suggest stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.

Job Stress and Health: What the Research Tells Us


Cardiovascular Disease

Many studies suggest psychologically demanding jobs which allow employees little control over the work process increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

On the basis of research by NIOSH and many other organizations, it is widely believed job stress increases the risk for development of back and upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders.

Psychological Disorders

Several studies suggest differences in rates of mental health problems (such as depression and burnout) for various occupations are due partly to differences in job stress levels. Economic and lifestyle differences between occupations may also contribute to some of these problems.

Workplace Injury

Although more study is needed, there is a growing concern stressful working conditions interfere with safe work practices and set the stage for injuries at work.

Psychological Injuries

Employees may also experience psychological injuries from aggressive or violent incidents that occur in the workplace. Psychological injuries from aggression can occur from either cumulative events or as a result of a traumatic event. For more information on workplace violence, please see OSHAcademy course 720 Preventing Workplace Violence.


St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company conducted several studies on the effects of stress prevention programs in hospital settings. Program activities included:

  1. employee and management education on job stress
  2. changes in hospital policies and procedures to reduce organizational sources of stress
  3. establishment of employee assistance programs

In one study, the frequency of medication errors declined by 50% after prevention activities were implemented in a 700-bed hospital. In a second study, there was a 70% reduction in malpractice claims in 22 hospitals that implemented stress prevention activities. In contrast, there was no reduction in claims in a matched group of 22 hospitals that did not implement stress prevention activities.

-Journal of Applied Psychology

Environmental Risk Factors


Physical and chemical risk factors (as well as biological agents) can influence employees’ comfort and performance within the work environment and contribute to work-related stress. Environmental sources of work-related stress include:

  • noise
  • temperature and humidity
  • lighting
  • vibration
  • air quality
  • unguarded plant and machinery

Individual Risk Factors

People respond to work-related stress differently. This can be related to a person’s previous experiences, coping styles, personality style, available support, and physiological factors.

Differences in people’s responses to stress do not reduce employers’ legal duty and responsibility to minimize exposure to work-related stress.

Coping With Stress


The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to maintain your health and outlook can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress:

  • Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Get proper healthcare for existing or new health problems.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body's response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities - decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can't do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly - just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.


Check out this Health Nerd YouTube video on ways to relieve stress right now!


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Workers who must take time off work because of stress will be off the job for about _____

2. Which of the following is/are signs of workplace stress?

3. It is widely believed job stress decreases the risk for development of back and upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders.

4. Environmental sources of work-related stress include which of the following

5. You should recognize these common signs to your body's response to stress.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.