"STRESS, doc." Words I hear so often from clients in my role as a physician. I also hear it outside of the office setting, among friends and family. Very often, it is stress from the workplace.
Stress may be viewed as any effort required that is more than you are prepared to put in within a certain period of time. Stress can be subtle or unexpected, such as in situations that are intended to be relaxing that somehow lead to frustration, like hassle with travel for a vacation, or adjusting to a new and exciting job. Many of us spend a significant proportion of our daily lives at the place of work, and that environment shapes who we are. Often, our work is not quite our dream job.
Focus on prevention
Connecting with clients on a one-on-one basis is a special experience, and one in which I try to listen carefully, identifying needs that are obvious and some that may be hard for clients to put into words. But more and more I found myself thinking about how I could reach more people beyond just a one-on-one basis before their physical and mental health started to buckle under the stress.
I have since had the opportunity to talk with employees of large organisations, sharing things that I thought were meaningful and could possibly influence their trajectory. I, in turn, am inspired when someone comes up to me right after the talk or months later somewhere else, either thanking me for something I shared or sharing their own inspiring stories. Now I get to do this at scale, and in more practical ways, including infection prevention and control training, workplace health programmes, health screening, immunisations, and more.
Multi-disciplinary approach to occupational safety and health
Several years ago I became a member of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) and the Jamaica Occupational Health and Safety Professionals Association (JOHSPA), intent on finding like-minded professionals and opportunities to deepen my knowledge in occupational safety and health or OSH. In JOHSPA, I learned that there were so many different skill sets required to maintain a healthy workforce, and that we have right here in Jamaica exceptionally qualified, experienced and passionate individuals in the OSH field. What has stood out the most to me is that these professionals are lifelong learners, ever honing their expertise, adding credentials, acing international exams, and sharing their knowledge with their peers.
Safety professionals are concerned with identifying potential hazards, and designing, implementing, and monitoring programmes in the workplace to prevent injury and occupational disease. There are scenarios I had not thought of until I heard an industrial relations attorney share her perspective. With Jamaica playing catch-up with much of the rest of the world, the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Bill will require that all workplaces comply with certain requirements, including the responsibility of ensuring a safe working environment. Of course, this will not be possible without the passage of the long debated OSH Bill. And although the failure to pass this legislation has persisted across several administrations, if the current government were to accomplish this, they will have demonstrated the required positive visionary leadership and commitment to the welfare of Jamaican workers. In any event, laws will not mean overnight transformation of workplaces, and professionals from the fields of communication and behaviour change, change management, psychology, nutrition, preventive medicine, and others are likely to bring unique value to the multi-disciplinary approach required to promote worker safety, health and well-being.
Making a difference
JOHSPA has really been true to its mission to do all we can for all we can in preventing occupational illness or injury and promoting workplace health. I encourage appropriately qualified professionals to become members of JOHSPA. Benefits include upskilling through cutting-edge continuing education seminars, keeping abreast of standards in OSH, and the opportunity to network with like-minded professionals in disciplines that complement your own expertise.
Dr Yohann White is President of the Jamaica Occupational Health and Safety Professionals Association (JOHSPA). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: 876-338-8897; Social Media: @JOHSPAWorkplace