In recent years, an increasing awareness has emerged of the potential for occupational and environmental exposure to safety and health issues that could lead to adverse effects in both males and females workers (Bohle and Quinlan, 2000). One of the areas of employment that received increased attention over recent years is occupational health and safety (OHS), which deals with the physiological and psychological conditions of an organization’s workforce that results from the work environment (Ritchie and Herscovitch, 1995). OHS involves in promotion and maintenance of well-being of workers and it seeks to prevent accidents and diseases by ensuring that workplaces are free from hazardous conditions (Bohle and Quinlan, 2000).
The attention gained in this area in Australia is a result of unacceptably high incidence of accidents, injuries, and diseases occurring at the workplace. It ranges from occupational stress, workplace physical violence and verbal abuse, and drug substances abuse in the workplace (Bohle and Quinlan, 2000). Efforts to improve the safety and health of workers in Australia has been increasingly recognized, and legislation has been introduced to improve health and safety, yet the number of occupational injuries and illnesses continues (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002). Many employers had been criticised for lack of success in reducing injury rates and failure to encourage for workplace health and safety. On the other hand, employees have also been identified as an essential factor to successful workplace safety and employee’s self-responsible is also important to OHS management (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002).
Those who involved in managing the OHS must understand the key issues and central debates if they are to make any improvements in the workplace. To identify who is principally responsible for OHS, it is essential to first explore a number of issues happened seen as critical to manage the workplace health and safety. The aim of this essay is to discuss whether the employer, the employee or the government is principally responsible for occupational health and safety in the workplace through a brief review of a number of problems happened in the workplace that associated with poor OHS performance.
In today’s workplace, drug testing has become a controversial matter and it has sparked an ongoing debate among management. Many has suggests that substance abuse can cause overwhelming risks to the public and it is important to prevent this from happening by implementing drug testing in the workplace (Draper, 1998). However, it is also suggested that drug testing is not an effectively way to overcome substance abuse as it is high in costs and most importantly, it is an invasion of privacy (Holland, Pyman and Teicher, 2005). Moreover, there are people believe that in today’s workplace, drug testing may not be popular but it is vital to a successful business (Hadfield, 2006). These individuals have actually pointed out that when public and personal safety is concerned, the safety of the public supersedes any other issue (Hadfield, 2006). This holds true in the case of airline pilots, bus drivers and health care professionals. A person who uses drugs can be a huge liability to themselves, the employer, co-workers, and the public. Drug users tend to have lower productivity compared to non-drug users and they tend to have higher work injuries compared to non-drug users (Draper, 1998).
To overcome this problem, a proper drug testing is conducts to discourage drug use, and to ensure public and workplace safe from accidents. Drug testing may save people on the job by not having an intoxicated co-worker making careless mistakes. Not only it would save one’s self but it would also benefit the company or organisation by having employees who are of maximum productivity (Hadfield, 2006). That is, drug testing on employees can contribute to a safer working environment, increased productivity, and better product integrity so that the organisation may see greater financial profits and improve its reputation. However, the strongest reason for opposing drug testing is the invasion of privacy (Holland, Pyman and Teicher, 2005). This occurs primarily in urinalysis, the most common drug screening process (Hadfield, 2006). Not only does this violate a person’s private life, it reveals a number of other ailments that employee may be suffering and where individual wishes to hide and keep it to themselves. For example, it can also expose an employee’s heart condition, depression, epilepsy, diabetes, and for women the same test can also confirm whether she is pregnant or not.
Although it is argued that employee’s right to privacy is being violated, yet drug testing is simply cannot be abolished in the workplace. To address the limitations of the testing, it is the employers’ responsibility to ensure drug testing can be carried out without hassle. In this case, an employee’s handbook is essential and it should outline the reasons of conducting drug testing, the ways for employees to file grievances, and positive results from drug testing may lead to termination or referral to an employee assistant program (Winfred and Doverspike, 1997). Moreover, employers must understand that by subjecting their employees to drug tests, without sound reasoning, they will be subject to federal and state laws. If employers fail to comply with the policies associated with drug testing, the result could prove costly for the organisation, potentially leading to hostile employee attitudes and behaviors (Hadfield, 2006). Thus, it is crucial that drug testing is conducted in a way that demonstrates the importance of safety in workplace and ensures that their drug testing policies are perceived as fair by applicants and employees. However, these reasons are not the only reasons for an organisation to conduct drug tests. It is the organisation and employer’s responsibility to provide a work environment as safe as possible for employees and for the greater good of the general public. In most cases, businesses do not care what one does in the privacy at their home. It only becomes an issue when it starts to affect job performance, the health and safety of the employee, co-workers, and the general public (Winfred and Doverspike, 1997).
While it is suggested that the employers are principally responsible for the drug testing in workplace, yet the government has also put in effort to improve the drug testing policies by regulating the standard of the testing (Holland, Pyman and Teicher, 2005). Besides, the government has imposed on employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and making sure that the statutory regulations serve the needs of employees, and their rights in the workplace are not violated. One way of doing this is to provide workers with various forms of information on drug testing and rights in the workplace (Hadfield, 2006). For example, formal seminar can be conducted in the organisation by the representatives from the government as a way to communicate with the workers and to ensure they understand the importance of OHS and drug testing that could affect on them.
Violence in the workplace emerged as an OHS issue in the past few decades and became a cultural and media phenomenon in many countries (Lord, 1998). It has gained increased attention as the awareness of its impact on workers and the workplace has grown where it often results in terrible consequences including bodily harm, stress and emotional strain (Boyd, 2002). There are increasing numbers of studies that examined workplace violence in the last decade and have focused on the factors associated as well as the consequences of it. One of the contributions to the literature has focused on determining the groups that will most likely to experience violence. For example, Boyd (2002) explains the situation that the airline companies and railway industries are currently experiencing. Millions of workers in Great Britain are suffering mild to severe level of violence at workplace where they are constantly being verbally or physically abused by customers. According to Lord (1998), workers in transportation occupations and service industry occupations accounted for 13.6 percent of the incidents of violence in their sample, and he found that verbal abuse was the most frequent type of violent act reported which accounted for 83.2%. Each of this data indicates that something is wrong at the management level of the organisation and appropriate action has to be taken immediately.
It is clear that violence is a serious public health issue and employers are responsible to take proper action in preventing workplace violence results in terrible consequences on the workers. Employers must be able to recognize the risk prior to an incident occurring, educate all workers on procedures and enforce all policies to the letter (Lord, 1998). As a key to the prevention of the violence in workplace, employers need training to manage workers at risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of violent behaviour, both to protect themselves and to reduce violence in the organisation (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002). Training sessions conducted are particularly helpful, enabling workers to get to know who and how to get help when potentially violent situations arise (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002). One way to deal with aggressiveness customers or colleagues, it is important that listening skills, conflict negotiation and avoidance tactic are included in the training program (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002). Despite all the training and preparation the employers have made, workplace violence does happens occasionally, and therefore, workers have own responsibility to protect themselves of being harmed.
Most of the time, workers have rely heavily on the law to prevent violence happening in the workplace. It is true that the government often find themselves needing to act on this issue before more and more workers are being victimized by workplace violence (Le Blanc and Kelloway, 2002). The government has used the legislative process to address workplace violence prevention, yet the numbers of workplace violence incidents remain high (Lord, 1998). It is argued that that legislation regulated by the government are not comprehensive enough to deal with workplace violence especially it is hard to define the “zone of tolerance”, and to what extent a verbal abuse is consider as illegal (Lord, 1998). In other words, more attention should be given to the role of employers, where they hold more responsibility towards the OHS of workers. One study conducted by Dupre and Barling (2006) have looked at the context of the confirmed and employers’ action. The findings suggest that perceived injustice or unhappiness leads to workplace aggression or violence. However, this aggression and violence appear to be reduced when individuals believe that the origination will take action against people who act illegally aggressive or violently abusive to someone (Dupre and Barling, 2006). This suggests that workplace violence can be reduced or prevented, if proper actions are taken by the employers accordingly.
Occupational stress is another factor that can negatively influence OHS and can have undesirable consequences for both the worker and the workplace. Stress includes any condition or circumstance at work that induce a negative emotional reaction such as frustration, anger, or anxiety (Peters and O’Connor, 1980). There are several factors causing adverse stress within organisations, for example, pressures caused by changes in the organisation, task overload, job redesigns, personnel realignment, and changes of mission are a few of those (Peters and O’Connor, 1980). In an article written in 2003, a study by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive estimates that work related stress accounts for more than a third of all new incidents of ill health, and that in the UK nearly thirteen million working days were lost due to stress, depression, and anxiety in the year of 2004 to 2005 (Teed, 2006). Furthermore, some of the researchers have also suggest that stress in work can contribute to inability to concentrate, sleeping disorders, high blood pressure, and unexplained gastric problems such as ulcers, heart problems, and probably most troubling, associated substance abuse problems such as alcohol addiction (Peters and O’Connor, 1980).
Job overload is also one of the major contributors to workplace stress and it is often happen in the business world today. It is perceives as overload when workload required to be complete is greater than workers’ abilities (Teratanavat and Kleiner, 2001). Overload is certainly a stress multiplier but there are times when a business has no other alternatives than to overload if it is to survive and unfortunately, this reliance on compounding employees’ already over-burdened workloads seems to cause failure within the business more often than not (Teratanavat and Kleiner, 2001). From the organisation’s perspective, workload means productivity. Whereas from the individual’s perspective, workload means time and energy (Leiter & Maslach, 1997). Finding a compromise between the two perspectives is a fundamental challenge in maintaining a balanced relationship with work (Leiter & Maslach, 1997).
Another factor that significantly contributes to workplace stress is organisation change. Organisational change refers to changes in business mission, redesign the structure of the organisation, layoffs, re-engineering and many more (Vakola, and Nikolaou, 2005). Most employees do not like to experience organisational change where it threatens stability and security of the workplace and hence it lead to increased in tensions. Reluctance of employees to accept and adapt to change within an organisation causes unnecessary stress on both, the company and the worker (Vakola, and Nikolaou, 2005). Inevitably, individuals who resist change within the organisation incur much greater stress than they would if they would have conformed in the beginning and in most cases, the changes will occur with or without their consent.
To ensure workers are not negatively impact from workplace stress, employers have the responsibility to address stress-related problems. There are many things that an organisation can do to relieve stress on its employees, where health promotion and wellness program are ways to manage stress effectively (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). The goal of health promotion and wellness program is to assist people in adopting positive behaviors that could lead to healthier lives and integrate social, mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellness (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). Implementing health and wellness program in the workplace will not only increase a company’s overall saving with health-related employee expenses but also increase participation with enticing incentives and benefits for employees (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). To adapt wellness programs effectively, it is essential for employers to determine what the needs of their workers are, and this information can be gathered through a systematic review, assessments or other records (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). When conducting this information gathering, employers must be aware that employees may be apprehensive about sharing personal health information for various reasons. Furthermore, avoidance of the adverse outcomes of stress within organisations is dependent upon proactive interventions applied with careful planning and consideration. Landsbergis and Vivona-Vaughn (1995) have suggested that employers should avoid task repetitive while assigning task to its workers, and most importantly, role conflict and ambiguity must be avoided when designing the proactive interventions. Ambiguity or not knowing exactly what an employer or organisation expectations are, has also been a particularly troubling aspect for the workers in some organisation (Landsbergis and Vivona-Vaughn, 1995). Overall, the observant employers must be able to quickly identify and address these stress related issues before they become health factors among their employees.
Based on the discussion on problems happened in the workplace associated with poor OHS performance, it indicates that employers are principally responsible to OHS performance, while the government and workers play only minor role in regard to this issue. It is clear that if any organisation is to be successful and maintaining a high level of employee satisfaction and high productivity, employers must be aggressive in applying any interventions necessary to achieve a harmonious work environment. Being aware of the initial and follow on interventions were equally important to the organisation (Dewe and O’Driscoll, 2002). In other words, employers are the primary party that can control and manage any hazardous workplace as they have greater understanding on legislation for workplace, organisational changes, decision and policies, and are able to use their perspective to create alignment around the workplace. Indeed, there is no single prescriptive approach for successful OHS management, which means employers have to be aware of the present situation and they should have the ability to see the transition to the future proposed state (Landsbergis and Vivona-Vaughn, 1995). Nevertheless, for the role of workers, they are encouraged to actively participate in any OHS programs that organised by the employers where feedback provided by the workers during the program can be useful for qualitative check on OHS performance (Bohle & Quinlan, 2000). As for the government, their role is to ensure that employers comply with their legal obligation and workers are protected by the law.
In conclusion, occupational health and safety issues remain crucial for workers, employers and governments where more and more people realized that poor managed OHS can result in a shift of adverse working conditions. Not only there is the legislation that outlines the responsibilities of employers and employees, yet employers and employees have become very conscious in regard of health and safety issues that they can see a real merit in reducing human, financial and productivity losses in the workplace. The participation of workers in health and safety matters is particularly crucial where there is a great need for health and safety information to be passed on to employees. Needless to say, employers are principally responsible for OHS issues and should develop a better performance measures on OHS as they introduce an improved systems of accountability and strive to show that the resources being allocated are used appropriately and the results demonstrate the best outcomes in producing safe workplaces for its employees. An organisation that successfully reduces its rates and severity of occupational accidents, diseases and work-related stress levels and improves the quality of work life becomes more effective, and sees beneficial results. Whereas, an unsafe and unhealthy work environment would adversely result in direct cost by way of workers’ compensation, indirect costs in terms of lost productivity and the wider community at large, and also in terms of human pain and suffering. Hence, the management performance on OHS will constantly remain crucial for the business world today.
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