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Could a toxic work environment be killing you?

The workplace is one of the leading causes of death in this country, coming in ahead of kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease at fifth. That’s according to a Stanford University professor whose new book is called “Dying for a Paycheck.”

The professor’s book doesn’t focus on the physical environment, which has been made safer by regulations and agencies that enforce those regulations, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He focuses on conditions that are part of the social environment of the workplace like long hours, micromanagement by bosses, high job demands, job insecurity, layoffs and toxic cultures, as well as the lack of health insurance for many workers.

The professor says that over 120,000 deaths and about $190 billion in health care costs each year can be traced to how American businesses manage their employees. He contends, “It’s pretty clear that the human costs — in terms of death — and the economic costs, in terms of elevated health care spending, are quite substantial.”

Companies can measure many of these workplace stressors and their impact on employee health, according to the professor. He says, “There are validated scales for all of these. If we wanted to regulate it, we could regulate it.”

Stress is a significant health hazard and an economic burden. Stress costs American employers some $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress. It can lead to workplace violence, which we are seeing increasingly in workplaces across the country — too often with fatal results. There are roughly 2 million incidents of workplace violence every year.

The professor gives little credence to wellness programs, which are touted by many companies as a valuable perk for employees. He says, “Wellness programs are an attempt to remediate” the harmful effects of the workplace. “Instead of remediation you need to prevent.”

It’s often more difficult to prove that workplace conditions like the ones discussed here are responsible for an employee’s physical or mental health problems than it is to prove a link between hazardous physical conditions and an illness or injury. However, if you believe that your illness resulted from conditions on your job that could and should have been prevented, an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney can provide guidance.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Stanford professor says the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.,” Jena McGregor, The Washington Post, March 23, 2018

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