LOS ANGELES, Oct. 24, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — On September 20, Dr. David Michaels (former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety & Health Agency) detailed the legal basis for OSHA to take action to protect worker mental health, in a public letter. The Healthy Work Campaign strongly supports this letter and urges immediate action by OSHA.
Both blue and white-collar workers in the U.S. are experiencing an increasing frequency of work-related mental health problems. Attention was first brought to this issue last year, when the U.S. Surgeon General documented the problem in a comprehensive report, titled “Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace“.
Dr. Marnie Dobson, Director of the Healthy Work Campaign, notes that “profound changes in working conditions in the pursuit of ever greater company profits over the last 40 years has led to increases in numerous work stressors, including longer work hours, increased demands, work-family conflict and less job security, resulting in increased burnout, mental ill health and poorer physical health.” The number of workers reporting burnout at work has been increasing, and morbidity and mortality from suicide and CVD have also been increasing.
“Despite growing awareness that there are serious problems with stress and mental health at work, little is being done about it formally at the national level. OSHA is the federal agency responsible for recognizing and preventing work-related illness and mortality, but OSHA has taken limited action to protect workers from work-related psychosocial hazards and mental illness,” says Dr. Peter Schnall, Director of the Center for Social Epidemiology.
In the letter, addressed to Mr. Doug Parker (current OSHA Assistant Secretary for Labor), Dr. Michaels makes several critical points:
- OSHA has the statutory authority and expertise to require employers to protect workers from mental health hazards;
- OSHA can immediately address mental health hazards by issuing guidance and bringing enforcement actions under the General Duty Clause; and
- OSHA should consider developing occupational safety and health standards to protect workers from mental health hazards.
Dr. Michaels is also quoted as saying “OSHA’s lack of focus on psychosocial risks is really an obvious hole in the worker safety protection system,” Michaels told Axios.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) must also play an important role in developing national guidelines on reducing work stressors and improving worker mental health. Such national guidelines or laws exist in Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, European Union (EU) OSHA, and internationally through the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.
The Healthy Work Campaign calls upon:
- NIOSH to develop guidelines that OSHA could use for standard-setting or for General Duty Clause citations
- OSHA to develop a standard for workplace mental health protection, and
- Congress and the President to ensure that OSHA and NIOSH receive adequate funding for their essential missions.
“We also urge OSHA, NIOSH, employers, unions and workers to amplify the important message that it is time to address and prevent sources of stress in the workplace. Healthy work can make a significant contribution to reducing burnout, preventing mental ill health, and promoting employee well-being,” says Dr. Peter Schnall.
SOURCE The Healthy Work Campaign