Life Altering Hazards Invisible to the Naked Eye

You’re grateful that your child comes home without a scratch. Should you be?

They walk in the door exhausted from a hard day at their very first job. You’re pleased to see them so engaged and committed to a process that will be a big part of their lives down the road. They may even remove steel toed boots or other protective equipment, symbolic of their attitude towards working safe. All is good. Or it seems.

On the surface , it certainly is good, and hopefully all is well. But beneath the surface, for too many young workers, physical hazards in their workplaces are way down the list of safety issues that concern them. And harm them.

Psychosocial hazards are finally starting to get the profile they deserve as legitimate workplace hazards with short term and long term effects that can be far more damaging than the physical hazards that usually come to mind when we think of workplace danger.

Psychosocial hazards are defined as any hazards that affect the mental well-being or mental health of the worker by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the worker’s ability to work in a healthy and safe manner.

These include harassment (sexual and otherwise), bullying, stress, violence and other workplace stressors – working alone and overnight shiftwork are two examples.

The media tends to focus on workplace injuries and fatalities involving catastrophic physical circumstances – falls, crashes, explosions and other such events.

It’s no wonder that any parent might breathe a sigh of relief when their young worker child returns home unharmed, happy that they will fall asleep that night with piece of mind.

But they may be missing the boat on goings on at work that are keeping their child up.

Do they have a bullying co-worker who is making fun of them, a supervisor who makes inappropriate comments or a foreman who asks them to do work for which they are untrained?

Now, how can you as a parent find out if your young worker is dealing with psychosocial hazards?

First off, go beyond the usual questions about what they do at work . Ask them about the people that they work with; about their behavior. Find out if there are any incidences of bullying, even if it doesn’t appear to be affecting them directly.

While sexual harassment is gender neutral, incidences of this kind of psychosocial hazard are higher among younger women. In the service sector it is prevalent because of interactions with both staff and customers who may act inappropriately. In the hospitality industry, it is even higher because of the use of alcohol.

If handled with sensitivity, introducing the concept of sexual harassment into a conversation about work will be fine. Please remember that this is not an exercise designed to allow you to pontificate and offer advice like many parents tend to do when having discussions of this nature with their children.

It is about introducing a topic and truly listening; not just with your ears, but with your eyes. There may be signals given off that you will miss if you are only focused on sharing information. This is not just a teachable moment.

Please keep in mind it’s not only the direct victims of harassment who suffer consequences. Harassment contributes to hostile work environments that also affect those in close proximity.

If there are indications that they may be dealing with psychosocial hazards, the inevitable question is asked: what can be done? It’s one thing to replace a broken ladder, something else entirely to fix a caustic work environment.

Remind your child of their worker rights. Their right to refuse work includes working conditions where psychosocial hazards are present. If there workplace has 5 or more employees, they should approach their health and safety worker representative. They are there to support all employees dealing with all hazards.

They may be concerned about triggering bad feelings between themselves and the perpetrator of the issue that has been cause for concern.

It is important that they understand that while psychosocial hazards may not be discussed in the same way, or as often as physical hazards, they are very important to most employers. They will be appreciative that someone has come forward to start a process to eliminate them in their workplace. Bullying, as an example, is bad for employee morale, affects productivity and is bad for business.

If the situation does not improve or taking a long time to resolve and is taking a dangerous toll on their psyche, they need to know that no job is worth jeopardizing their health for. And that they have your support every step of the way.

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