In a previous article, we discussed what job burnout is, the differences between stress and burnout, and the symptoms of burnout.
When you think about hazards in the workplace, maybe you think of machine guarding, lockout, or fall hazards. Maybe you even think of the less obvious hazards, such as workplace harassment or ergonomics. Rarely does anyone consider burnout a hazard. However, burnout can be responsible for loss of productivity, increased errors, susceptibility to more colds and flus, and even anxiety and/or depression.
How Burnout Impacts Health and Safety
Burnout can have catastrophic effects on workplace health and safety. It has the potential to impact any and all facets of work – from operations and process down to communication. Consider the following impacts of burnout on workplace health and safety:
Inability to Respond Quickly
Lack of focus and decreased ability to concentrate are trademark signs of burnout, which may result in reduced response times. When there’s an accident, responses and reactions are normally split-second, and a matter of life or death. Reduced ability to make proper decisions in the event of an accident will impact health and safety. In the event of a fire, collision, or injury, fast action is often credited with saving lives. When the ability to react quickly is impeded by burnout, workplace health and safety may suffer.
Cab drivers, long-haul truckers, delivery people, and transit operators each drive all day long as part of their occupational job requirements. Burnout drastically decreases the ability to remain alert and cognizant to rapidly changing road conditions. People forget that vehicles are workplaces when they’re driven for work, and that an accident or fatality while driving for work is considered to be a workplace accident. Workers suffering from, or suspected to be suffering from, burnout should be removed from the road and given alternative appropriate work while they recover.
Heavy Equipment Operations
Similar to those who drive vehicles for a living, those who operate heavy machinery for all or part of their shift may experience burnout. If they do, the equipment operation becomes hazardous, by failing to react to a hazard. When operation heavy equipment around people or traffic, hazards can develop quickly, or as a result of inattention during inspections. Workers suffering from, or suspected to be suffering from, burnout should be removed from equipment operation and given alternative appropriate work while they recover.
Workplace Violence and Harassment Factors
Workers suffering from burnout are irritable and may be prone to feelings of anger. While the correlation between burnout and violent or harassing episodes is a stretch, the relation to violence and burnout is relevant, with burnout typically manifesting after being involved in, or witnessing, a violent workplace event.
The prevalence of depression and/or anxiety among burnout sufferers is high. This may result in lost time while the suffering worker is off to recover from burnout, and also learning to manage their resultant anxiety and/or depression. A worker who suffers an injury as a result of a workplace accident caused by burnout also requires time away from work to recuperate. Lost time injuries have a dramatic impact on productivity, morale, and the overall efficacy of the health and safety program.
The key to preventing burnout from having a negative impact on workplace health and safety is early identification and intervention. Don’t let burnout become an invisible and neglected hazard in your workplace. Talk to employees about burnout, offer training and support, and address symptoms should any come up. It’s not an obvious hazard, but neglecting to control burnout hazards will have an adverse effect on health and safety in the workplace.
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
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