Will OSHA ever take on job stress?
A "complicated" subject
ISHN Chief Editor Dave Johnson reporting from AIHce 2013:
The short answer, according to OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels, who was asked the question in a Q&A session Tuesday morning, is NO. Dr. Michaels was emphatic on that point. “We have too much on our plate now,” he said.
European countries are far ahead of the U.S. in confronting job stress as an issue to be taken up by regulatory agencies. Canada just recently passed a national law, the National Standard on Psychological Health in the Workplace. It’s a voluntary standard, which safety experts in Canada hope to see some large companies launch pilot programs based on the law.
"What's stressful for one person is invigorating to another"
John Henshaw, former OSHA head who accompanied Dr. Michaels in the Q&A, said, “If you think ergonomics is political, you haven’t seen anything compared to the politics of job stress.”
Dr. Michaels jumped in: “Here is an example of how complicated the subject is. A lot of people would say my job is very stressful. I’m dealing with all sorts of lobbying groups, prima donnas, Congress, emergency situations, pressure groups, and so on. But I don’t find my job stressful at all. I love my job. So what’s stressful for one person is invigorating to another.”
So how do you set a standard for that? You don’t, not now or any time soon. Not in the U.S., where our culture is based on the individual, individual willpower, resilience and independence. In Europe, it is a different culture. The government is much more involved in individual matters. In the U.S., that government intervention is exclaimed as socialism.
Henshaw said NIOSH’s Total Worker Health program, which encourages companies to take a holistic 24/7/365 approach to an employee’s well-being on and off the job, and be concerned about health threats such as job stress, depression, anxiety and other psych disorders, could be an entry point in the U.S. for companies gingerly taking on the very complex issue of psychological health and mental disorders resulting from work overload, lack of control over one’s job, the inability in the email age to get away from the job, and many other factors.
But for OSHA, at this time, job stress is a non-starter.