Take your work environment to the next level of health and safety

In recent years, we have become much more aware of the way our mental and physical health affects our performance and the implications this can have on our safety.


Investing in preventative measures can save lives and reduce ill-health absence, as well as gaining back valuable time, effort, and saving money.


Identifying the three most common hidden health problems in a work environment

  1. Dehydration

    It may seem insignificant that workers tend to only drink during break times, but infrequent water intake, combined with the consumption of diuretic liquids, such as soft drinks, can increase the chances of dehydration. Even a drop of 1% in hydration can cause decreased cognitive function, slower eye adjustments, reduced concentration and alertness, depleted energy, and slower reaction times.


    At 3 – 4% dehydration, employee performance can drop by 25 – 50% according to Safeopedia. What’s more, a 3% dehydration level can make you feel like you have a 0.08 blood alcohol level.


    Most workers are unaware that they are dehydrated until they feel thirsty, by which time they are already at risk of making mistakes, poor decision making, and loss of spatial awareness. They show no outward signs or symptoms that they have diminished capacity, both mentally and physically. This issue could be affecting an average of 75% of your workforce on a daily basis, contributing to a wide range of hidden issues.


    High temperatures and manual work will increase the need for regular hydration. The recommended daily intake (not including severe conditions) is 8 glasses per day. In addition, we get about 20% of our daily water consumption via fresh foods. Ideally, half a glass of water should be drunk every half an hour, which could be disruptive to the rhythm of work.


    If water is consumed only during breaks, the recommendation is to drink at least 2 glasses. Dehydration can progressively debilitate you over the course of the day and worsen fatigue.

      What can you do to help?  

    It is a legal requirement to provide drinking water and cups for employees. Be aware that some people dislike tap water, and this preference might be a barrier to staying hydrated.


    A hydration station and water coolers are the best ways to ensure that water is on tap. If placed in easily accessible locations, bottles or cups can be refilled quickly and may encourage workers to drink water more frequently.


    These water dispensers also encourage the use of refillable bottles, making them environmentally friendly too!


    We would advise that posters and educational materials also accompany your strategy to increase hydration, such as a dehydration urine colour chart, and these could be placed in toilets, encouraging workers to stay hydrated.


    Learn more about dehydration on the HSE website.

  3. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

    This is also known worldwide as the silent killer because there are often no symptoms until it becomes serious. The World Health Organisation reports that hypertension is responsible for at least 45% of deaths from heart attacks and 51% of deaths due to strokes.


    Of course, not every episode is fatal and there are many more people living with the after-effects of both.


    People with hypertension can have sudden bouts of dizziness, lose spatial vision, lose concentration or even black out. In safety-critical areas of work, particularly with plant or machinery, this could be the cause of a major injury or worse.


    Some of the common causes of hypertension include unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, obesity, and excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Education and self-discipline will help to counteract this problem, although people may not be aware that it is affecting them.

      What can you do to help?  

    Early detection and intervention are key to preventing long-term illness or fatalities. Some organisations have installed a free health check machine to encourage employees to monitor their weight and blood pressure. Biometric information may be stored and will show the user’s progress on a dashboard, which is accessed via a personal password.


    To encourage people to use the machine, it is worth backing up with briefings about health and nutrition. If possible, discounted gym memberships can also be offered to encourage good habits.


    Learn more about hypertension on the NHS website.

  5. Depression

    While we may find it relatively easy to spot the signs of stress or anxiety in ourselves, it might not be as easy with others. In many workplaces, these are health issues that are being addressed with wellbeing programmes.


    Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest

    that men tend not to access these services until they are already struggling. Here are some key findings from a poll of 1,000 men:

    1. 77% have suffered from anxiety, stress or depression
    2. The biggest pressure comes from work (32%)
    3. The majority claim that poor mental health is having a negative impact on their work performance
    4. 40% said it would take thoughts of suicide or self harm to compel them to get professional help

    In predominantly male-dominated industries, these statistics are likely to be higher, but why is this happening? It appears to be a widely held view that some of this can be attributed to societal conditioning that boys are subject to in their formative years e.g. ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘you’re whining like a girl’ or ‘act like a man’.


    This school of thought asserts that boys observe or learn that emotional strength equals masculinity and that any display of emotional feelings is a sign of weakness.

    What can you do to help?


    The stigma of seeking help needs to be addressed, and that’s a culture shift that will take time. The fastest and most effective way would be to bring help to the workforce. Safety briefings tend to cover physical or occupational hazards, but bringing in a mental health practitioner to give some useful advice and offering a pop-up surgery could make a real difference to someone that you work with.


    Read more about depression on the MIND website.


What’s in it for me?


What we allocate time, money, and effort to can be directly observed in the workplace. We can instantly see what leadership focuses on or what they omit, and this is how beliefs are formed about what matters and what doesn’t.


While taking care of the health and wellbeing of employees is a legal duty, what you do beyond that is what will make the difference in employee engagement levels for health and safety. By creating spaces and investing in resources that provide opportunities to be open about hidden health problems, the message is loud and clear – it matters.