What are the Risks Associated with Employee Health?

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Section I: Why and how do we identify risks to employee health?

Employee health is an issue of great concern, more so as the work place environment continues to change as a result of technological advancements. When addressing the sensitive topic of employee health, it is important to consider factors that enhance the risks of unhealthy working conditions and how the risks can be mitigated. As indicated by Becker & Smidt (2016), risk identification is a crucial part of problem solving as it enables stakeholders to align themselves strategically in a bid to prevent adverse health and well- being outcomes. To help understand the issue of employee health better, the paper will aim to highlight several risk factors while also examining how the risks can be controlled to improve the working conditions in the UK and consequently determine ways to ensure all members of the labour force are adequately protected from work associated risks.

The purpose of Risk Identification

Risk determination is empirical in problem solving and prevention Cartwright & Cooper (2014). Without understanding the risks associated with employee health, it is impossible to develop relevant solutions that can help address the issue. According to Lundgren and McMakin, (2018), there exist two main forms of risks when dealing with employee health, the current and emerging risks. Current risks are those that continue to affect the workforce while emerging risks are those that are likely to occur in the future. Emerging risks can be challenging to address, more so when there is inadequate information on potential trends and how they can determine future trends (Lundgren & McMakin, 2018).

Risk identification is important as it focuses on all stakeholders in the workforce. To expound further, there exists three main stakeholders in regards to employee well-being; they include the employees, employers and the government (Lundgren & McMakin, 2018). Therefore, it is important to understand work related risks from different perspectives in a bid to set up adequate measures to safeguard and maintain the desired working conditions.

For employees, identifying risks is crucial in avoiding work related injury, stress or burnout Mintzberg (2000). Once employees understand the risks involved, it will be possible to undertake the necessary measures to prevent bad outcomes. When employees are aware of the risks associated with the work environment, it is possible to collaborate with other stakeholders such as the employer in ensuring employee health is consistently prioritized (Lundgren & McMakin, 2018). Similarly, understanding risks is critical for employers as it helps determine what to avoid and the areas that require more work. Employers can create policies that aim to safeguard employee welfare. As a stakeholder, the government also has a role to play in ensuring employee welfare and interests are always protected. With relevant information on risks and challenges associated with the work environment in different sectors, it is possible for the government to play a regulative role to ensure all employers and organizations comply with national or industry-specific policies.

How risk identification is done

Despite the availability of numerous resources that highlight potential risks, not all resources are industry or environmentally focused enough to identify all associated risks. As a result, it is vital to utilize proven and highly reliable techniques that help provide adequate information on the challenges and risks associated with the work environment. However, horizontal scanning has emerged as a highly reliable technique that if used well, can help identify all current and potential risks associated with the work place.

According to Kaufmann (2017), horizontal scanning is the systematic and strategic analysis of threats, opportunities as well as potential developments which can be pre-planned or pre-examined. Horizontal scanning is a highly effective technique as it can be used by a host of stakeholders to investigate and determine risks associated with the workforce. For instance, researchers, trade unions, employer or employee bodies, safety authorities and the government can all use horizontal scanning to determine risks or opportunities associated with a specific sector.

As indicated by Schultz, & Edington, (2007), to effectively conduct horizontal scanning it is important to incorporate various techniques which are vital in obtaining information. Some of the techniques include, telephone or face-to face interviews, industry specific events, the conduction of Delphi studies and even mathematical modelling. The acquired information is then analysed to help determine potential risks while simultaneously allowing for the laying down of crucial interventions. Therefore, once a sector is identified as high-risk, the government or any other affected party can conduct a horizontal scan on the work environment to determine the risks associated with work and whether there are enough measures put in place to mitigate the risks and minimize the occurrence of unwanted outcomes in work environments.

Section II: What is known about risks to the health and wellbeing of the workforce?

Managing the work environment has proven to be a challenge, especially due to the technological advancements which continue to influence working conditions. To understand more about the risks associated with the work environment, it is empirical to refer to organizations such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), European Agency for Safety and Health at Work EU-OSHA and finally EUROFOUND which are credible resources that will help in understanding the various issues that arise in regards to employee health.

According to Barling and Cloutier (2017), both current and emerging risks should be considered to ensure the employees` welfare is prioritized at all times. However, it is vital to understand that there exists several risks which can either be classified as current or emerging. Emerging risks more often than not arise as a result of new inventions, trends, and advancements in technology. As indicated by Barling and Cloutier (2017),

the work place environment can affect employees` physical and mental health while also reducing the overall quality of life. Therefore, there is a need to address issues of employee health in a bid to safeguard the labour force`s overall welfare.

Over the years, there have been increased concerns on employee welfare whereby several cases of maltreatment and exposure to life threatening risks have been reported (Tawfik et al., 2018). There is a need to find the perfect balance between work and personal life to ensure employees develop healthy mental frames while at work. However, as indicated by Tawfik et al., (2018), not all sectors have similar risks. As a result, there is a need to examine the immediate working conditions and subsequently determine the risks associated with the occupation.

Some sectors require more regulation than others. For instance, sectors such as construction and manufacture expose workers to multiple risks as opposed to office environments. As indicated by Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler, and Brom (2016), the higher the risk, the greater the need for regulation in order to prevent the exposure of employees to unwarranted risks.

According to Thomas and Hersen (2002), risk management has increased enormously over the past decade as stakeholders have become increasingly aware of the various risks associated with the workplace environment. However, some organizations have a reputation of compromising on employee well-being in efforts to capitalize on profits which exposes employees to a myriad of risks (Thomas & Hersen 2002). Through regulatory bodies such as the HSE, it is possible for the government and other stakeholders to regulate and ensure employee welfare is prioritized.

However, despite the perception of some sectors as high risk, it is vital to understand that all work place environments expose employees to various risks which should be managed to prevent transgressing to health or mental problems. Regulatory bodies have a role to conduct extensive research in efforts to determine areas of potential risk based on emerging developments (Thomas & Hersen 2002). Schultz and Edington, (2007) assert that prevention of avoidable adverse outcomes should be prioritized as opposed to finding solutions in the form of compensation and settlements. Moreover, Schultz and Edington (2007) add that the mentality of compensation is disruptive to progress since some employers tend to neglect the role of safeguarding the work environment in the assumption that compensation costs might not be as high as the costs that would be required to further secure the work place.

Understanding the Different Types of Risks

There exists several types of risks that negatively affect employee health, however, the risks can be categorized into three main categories, physical health, mental health and well-being risks (Holton, Barry, & Chaney 2016). Despite the perception of the above mentioned risks as obvious and easy to understand, they are more often than not assumed, especially mental health and well-being. Increased pressure from regulators has led to the creation of awareness on the need to prevent such risks from occurring. However, as indicated by Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler and Brom (2016)., there has been a shift in attitudes as more employers opt to focus more on physical health as opposed to mental health and overall well-being. As a result, there have been increased efforts from national bodies and global regulators to prevent organizations from exploiting employees.

Physical health. As Wilson, Dejoy, Vandenberg, Richardson and Mcgrath (2004) assert, physical health has taken centre stage in discussions regarding employee well-being. Most organizations perceive physical risks as potentially costly issues and as a result, tend to focus more on preventing the risks from occurring. However, as mentioned earlier, each sector exposes employees to different set of risks. Physical hazards are defined as factors within the work environment which can inflict harm without contact, the hazards are such as vibration, noise, body-stressing, electricity and even equipment related risks (Wilson, Dejoy, Vandenberg, Richardson, & Mcgrath, 2004)

Unlike other forms of risks, physical hazards are not subject to constant change since they are usually fixed within a specific environment (Thomas & Hersen, 2002). However, the risks tend to increase upon the acquisition of new equipment or moving to new environments. Consequently, organizations have stiffened policies in a bid to prevent physical risks from occurring. Complacency in policy observation and ignorance of potential risks has been the leading cause of physical risks (Thomas & Hersen 2002). Moreover, some organizations opt for substandard equipment with the aim of reducing operational costs; subsequently, employees working for such organizations are exposed to numerous risks.

Physical health is an issue of great concern since it has the potential to affect the workforce as well as the national economy. When physical injuries occur, employees are more often than not incapable of working, and in some cases, they end up being disabled which reduces overall access to job opportunities. Therefore, as indicated by Barling and Cloutier (2017), it is vital to ensure that physical risks are averted through proper policy making, acquisition of high quality equipment and inclusion of posters and notices that warn of impending risks within the work environment. The government, through its regulation bodies, aims to ensure that all employees work in safe environments that do not expose them to potentially hazardous risks (Barling & Cloutier, 2017). To address this situation, the government has been on the radar of non-compliant organizations by conducting investigations through affiliate bodies with the aim of restoring sanity in the UK labour force.

Mental health. Barling and Cloutier (2017) assert that mental health is equally, if not more important than physical health. The performance of the labour force is not dependent on physical health only; on the contrary, mental well-being greatly affects work performance (Wilson, Dejoy, Vandenberg, Richardson, & Mcgrath, 2004). As indicated by Wilson, Dejoy, Vandenberg, Richardson and Mcgrath (2004), work helps improve mental health but can lead to mental and physical health problems if the work environment becomes toxic. Unhealthy work related pressure can lead to anxiety and depression which reduce an employee`s performance significantly. What is more, a study by Barling and Cloutier (2017) reveals that 85% of employees working in stressful environments perform significantly below their capabilities. Therefore, to increase performance at work, it is important for organizations to prioritize mental health of their respective employees to ensure the environment is conducive enough to enhance performance.

Further, Barling and Cloutier (2017) assert that there are over 300 million people suffering from depression globally. An overwhelming 52% of that figure represents the working class who attribute their state of depression to work related stress (Barling & Cloutier 2017). Moreover, WHO statistics indicate that approximately $1 trillion is lost each year as a result of reduced productivity due to mental health (2017). Therefore, the above statistics indicate the enormity of mental health effects which continue to plague the global economy.

The main factors that affect mental health at work are such as ineffective policies, unnecessary pressure to achieve unrealistic goals, harassment, bullying and limited growth opportunities (Holton, Barry, & Chaney 2016). A harassed employee cannot perform at a high level and might fall into depression if the harassment is not addressed. Similarly, unrealistic goals have the ability to assert unnecessary pressure on employee to the extent that most victims develop depression and work related anxiety. As Barling and Cloutier (2017) assert, mental health risks tend to promote absenteeism, drug use and reduced work performance.

Most notorious and incompliant organizations operate on unfair policies (Barling & Cloutier 2017). To expound further, some organizations create toxic environments as a result of unfair competition and favouritism. Consequently, employees are more often than not forced to compete with their more privileged counterparts who have access to company resources; this creates a toxic work environment that can lead to depression. Put simply, every sector has a specific set of mental health risks that need to be addressed before they affect the labour force.

Some of the popular risk factors for mental health are such as inadequate and safety and health policies, poor management, minimum employee support, inflexible working hours and unrealistic organization objectives (Cartwright & Cooper, 2014). A host of European organizations have built a reputation of overworking employees, especially foreigners who have little choice in job selection. The effects of overworking staff are such as burnout, anxiety and even depression. Therefore, there is a need for regulators to monitor organizations to ensure they do not exploit employees. As Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler and Brom (2016) highlight, most organizations tend to prioritize physical risks as opposed to mental risks. The reason for the above mentioned perspective is due to the astronomical costs associated with resolving cases of physical harm at the work place. However, it is necessary to consider mental health as well since it is a determinant of productivity at work. Moreover, mental health issues can lead to disability, drug dependence, absenteeism and interpersonal issues which reduce an organization`s overall performance.

Welfare. According to Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler and Brom (2016), employee wellbeing is an essential issue that every company must aim to achieve. Employee well-being ensures staff remains motivated and excited about the prospects of working for an organization (2016). To explain further, employee well-being is a combination of several factors of the micro environment. According to Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler and Brom (2016), there are three main factors that need to be addressed to ensure employee well-being achieved. First, the work environment is empirical in improving employee welfare. Different aspects such as comfort, temperature, air quality, light and noise can affect employees` performance and even health. Well-being is deeply associated with physical and mental health and as a result, can lead to heath issues, especially if the environment is not appropriate for work (Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler & Brom 2016)

The second factor that affects well-being is the psychological aspect of the work environment. Employee well-being is impossible to achieve without adequate focus on the psychological aspect (Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler & Brom 2016). Psychological factors are such as stress prevention and handling within the organization, support in achieving work related goals, provision of recreational facilities and rest through paid leaves and off days. Without focusing on these psychological factors, it is impossible for an organization to successfully improve well-being at work. Work related stress can lead to depression and a lack of adequate time to relax away from work can prove detrimental to employee mental health (Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler & Brom (2016).

The final aspect of well-being is the social environment. Work relationships determine the overall attitudes and level of performance at work. There are three key relationships that should be considered by organizations looking to improve the welfare of their employees and they include, relationships with management, colleagues and community (Tawfik et al., 2018). Poor working relationships between colleagues can lead to mental health problems, especially if not resolved immediately. Environments where senior managers look down on lower level employees are more often than not toxic and can greatly affect the well-being of employees. Similarly, an organization should be keen to protect its external image to safeguard the interests of its employees. For instance, an organization that pollutes the environment or one that has a reputation for being corrupt can be negatively perceived by the public. The public can then assert negative pressure on employees which consequently affects employees` social relations.

Many organizations tend to neglect employee welfare by exposing their staff to inhumane working environments. However, such neglect can prove costly not only to an organization and its employees, but also to national development. Toxic work environments are issues of great concern to the government, more so as victims tend to underperform and develop physical or mental health complications (Tawfik et al., 2018). Similar to physical and mental health risks, welfare depends on the sector and immediate work environment. As a result, organizations are expected to comply with international and local labour laws that aim to ensure that work environments are free of avoidable risks. Neglect of employee welfare more often than not leads to mental health issues as employees tend to feel discontented with their work-life balance and consequently drown into depression and anxiety (Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler & Brom, 2016). On top of being associated with mental issues, neglect of employee welfare can lead to physical health risks as well. For instance, employees working in high risk environments without adequate safety measures are at increased risks of work related injury. Therefore, it is necessary for stakeholders to regulate organizations and ensure they prioritize employee well-being as it is a determinant of employee health.

Depending on the sector, all organizations have a responsibility to safeguard the mental and physical health as well as the well-being of employees. As Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler, and Brom (2016) highlight, it is fairly easy for organizations to comply with regulations that seek to address physical risk. However, mental health is equally important and needs to be considered to ensure employees are comfortable in their work place environments. It is not until recently that mental health risk was considered as a determinant for employee health. Initially, organizations opted to detach from mental health instead opting to focus on preventing physical risks. However, as Mintzberg (2000) asserts, mental health and overall well-being are important aspects of employee health that must be prioritized by organizations. Organizations that fail to prioritize employee welfare have increased chances of dealing with mental health and physical injury cases due to ignorance (Mintzberg 2000). Therefore, it is highly crucial for both employees and the employers to understand the risks associated with daily operations and consequently collaborate in mitigating the operational risks.

Section III: Health risks in the construction sector

The construction sector is a highly diverse industry that includes various activities such as mining, construction of buildings and infrastructure, quarrying and even forestry. In the UK, the sector accounts for over 3 million jobs and brings in approximately £110 billion a year; this is an indication of the enormity of the sector and its significance to the country`s economy. As indicated by Reese and Eidson (2006) construction is a high-risk industry that requires significant amounts of investments to sustain. Moreover, as a sector, construction is vital to the UK since it allows for the creation of structures, infrastructure.

The UK construction sector has undergone significant changes over the years, more so due to criticism over its overall manage, wastefulness and the amount of risks involved. Unlike other sectors, the construction industry mainly employs male workers due to the nature of activities carried out. Approximately 85% of employees working in the sector are male who are mostly middle aged Lange (2016),. As an industry, construction has developed gradually over the past decade.

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous activities that fall under the umbrella of construction. The common activities undertaken in the sector are such as building houses, structures, roads, tree forts, workplaces and even the repair and maintenance of infrastructure Lange, (2016). Most of these activities are high risk and require adequate planning and execution to guarantee the safety of the employees. As Nichols (2015) highlights, the construction process has three main stages namely planning, design and financing; the process continues until the structure is completed and ready for use.

Some of the risks factors associated with the construction sector are such as height or elevation, noise, dust, equipment and demolition. As indicated by Grant and Hinze (2014), the construction industry is plagued by four main risks popularly referred to as the ‘fatal four’ which are falls, being caught between objects, electrocution and being struck by objects. Occupational fatalities have led to increased concern from regulators and stakeholders as they look to reduce the risks associated with construction sites.

Construction related risks

As mentioned above, there are four general safety hazards which are prevalent in the construction sector. The hazards have been responsible for thousands of death across Europe and without action, the numbers will likely increase in the coming years. The main causes of the risks are lack of necessary on-site training, inadequate supervision of workers and lack of enough preventive measures.


The construction industry is largely associated with the risk of falling. When building houses and large structures, workers have increased chances of falling, especially if inexperienced or untrained. As Grant, and Hinze (2014) highlight, 42% of occupational fatalities in the construction sector are due to falls. Falls occur mostly due to ignorance either by the employees or employer. For employers, failing to provide quality working equipment and appropriate kits increases the odds of falls during work. When working in slippery or high structures, it is necessary to wear appropriate kit that will help increase grip. However, this has not been the case as most employers tend fail to provide basic working attire for employees. Also, fall protection is important when working on runways, hoist areas, holes, edge work, roofing, precast erection and buildings.

Falls more often than not end up impairing workers once they occur. There is a great risk of paralysis or even death depending on the severity of falls. In most cases, employees who fall during work become incapable of working either in the short or long term due to the fall related injuries. However, despite the increase in fall-preventative measures, there is still a long way to go as Europe is among the leading continents in regards to falls on construction sites (Grant& Hinze 2014).

Being struck by objects

As Nichols (2015) highlights, the construction industry is a dangerous sector to work in, especially due to the numerous risks involvement. Popularly referred to as ‘struck-by’ injuries, the hazards can prove life threatening depending on the striking object. Struck-by injuries occur as a result of forcible contact or impact between an object and the victim. Struck-by hazards are categorized into four main classifications which include, struck-by flying object, struck-by falling object, struck-by rolling object and struck by swinging object (Grant& Hinze 2014).

Struck-by flying object. Flying object injuries occur when an object has been hurled, thrown or suspended on air (Nichols 2015). An example of a flying object is when a piece or segment of working material detaches from a tool, equipment or object consequently striking a worker. The impact and weight of the object more often than not determine the extent of the injury; in some cases, the impact can even lead to death.

Struck-by falling object. Struck-by falling objects is a common occurrence in the construction sector. Falling objects can cause severe injuries as a worker can be crushed or pinned down the object. Falling objects cannot be prevented by workers since most happen as a result of substandard working environments (Lange,2016). For instance an object might fall as a result of faulty equipment or lack of proper inspection by supervisors before allowing workers access.

Truck by swinging object. The hazard of swinging objects occurs when mechanically lifted materials swing and strike employees (Lange,2016). Heavy loads usually have a swinging impact as they twist and turn due to suspension. If caught unawares, workers can sustain serious injuries or even lose their lives. Also, windy conditions increase the risk of swings, especially if the winds are heavy. In some cases, the loads can slip from their respective riggings and strike workers.

Struck-by rolling object. Struck-by a rolling object occurs when objects in the construction site move, roll or slide on a similar level or lane occupied by a worker. Also, a moving vehicle or forklift accidents fall under this category since the objects are in motion and at the same level with workers. Struck-by rolling accidents are not uncommon in construction sites as they account for 16% of injuries sustained in sites (Lange,2016). This has led to increase scrutiny on construction companies that fail to arrange or organization their sites such that roll-related injuries are prevented.

Being caught between objects

The risk of being caught between objects is often confused with being struck by objects; however, in caught-between accidents injury is not only caused by impact but also by crushing. Caught in accidents can occur in three main forms through cave-ins or trenching, being caught in or pulled into equipment such as machines and being crushed or compressed between sliding, moving, rolling or shifting objects (Lange,2016). As other forms of construction related risks reduced in the past decade, caught in hazards have increased by an alarming 6% which is attributed either to unprofessional handling of equipment or use of substandard machinery (Grant& Hinze 2014).. As indicated by Lange (2016)

heavy, unguarded machinery with moving parts, buried by or in, and pinned between are three main causes of caught between accidents.

Machinery with moving, unguarded parts. Most construction sites rely on heavy machinery with several moving parts in performing various activities. Over time, heavy machines require servicing and if they are not appropriately de-energized or guarded, they can lead to injury or death. Also, workers can be crushed as a result of being caught up in objects that tip. Power tools that are not properly guarded can lead pull workers either through their clothes or body parts and lead to caught-between accidents.

Buried in or by. Cave-ins of trenches and unprotected excavations are the leading causes of buried-in or by accidents. On top of the risk of being buried, trenches can contain risky conditions where workers can drown, land in sewages or even harmful chemicals. Moreover, workers who spend most of their time underground can be crushed and buried in the event of tunnels collapsing.

Pinned between .Pinned between accidents are not uncommon as workers are more often than not pinned between solid objects and equipment. An example is a worker getting pinned between a wall and an equipment he was operating. Pinned between accidents are usually less fatal depending on the weight and movement of the equipment. However, in some cases, workers can sustain severe injuries or even die in the event of being pinned between two heavy objects.


According to Grant and Hinze (2014), electrocution occurs when an individual is knowingly or unknowingly exposed to a toxic level of electrical energy. Thus, an electric hazard exposes workers to burns, shock, electrocution, arc blast, explosions and even fire. The above mentioned risks can affect a worker in multiple ways leading to severe injuries or even death. The level of electric energy in most sites is usually high, and as a result, failing to protect workers effectively against the risk of electrocution can lead to unwanted outcomes that not only affect the victim but also the entire site. The risk of electrocution is serious, more so since it can affect the entire workforce and lead to the destruction of several if not all company assets.

Section IV: Managing Health Risks in the Construction Sector: A summary For Managers

The construction sector is highly important not only in economic growth but also due to its role in developing the country. As a result, it is important for all stakeholders from industry leaders, to employees and even the national government to team up in a bid to ensure the amount of risks associated with the sector are effectively mitigated.

As managers, it is important to understand the role an organization plays in safeguarding the welfare of its employees. If adequate safety and prevention measures are undertaken, it will be possible to significantly reduce the amounts of accidents and fatalities that occur at sites. The four main types of risks associated with construction sites are such as falls, being struck by objects, electrocution and being caught between objects. Addressing these risks requires commitment from both the employer and the employees.

First, it is important to create awareness of the various risks associated with working in such high risk environments. Without adequate knowledge, it will be impossible for employees to understand the enormity of risks and how to avoid them. Therefore, it is highly essential to create internal awareness such that workers can be empowered and understand how to conduct themselves in the high risk environment. Work place education should not be limited to teaching people about risks only. Instead, it should focus on educating employees on proper equipment usage, how to operate heavy machinery safely and how to react in the event of a disaster. Employees should receive adequate training before being allowed to operate heavy machinery.

Employers have to play the role of pol

January 19, 2024

Business Economics

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Employee Workplace

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