OSHA released a Safety and Health Topics bulletin in early November 2022 addressing workplace stress and mental health hazards, which seems to indicate these hazards fall under the agency’s jurisdiction.
The bulletin cites a 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication on Mental Health in the Workplace which mentions that work-related stress has a number of potential consequences.
‘Work can be a stress factor’
- job performance
- work engagement and communication, and
- physical capability and daily functioning.
“While there are many things in life that induce stress, work can be one of those factors,” the bulletin states. “However, workplaces can also be a key place for resources, solutions, and activities designed to improve our mental health and well-being.”
Citations could fall under General Duty Clause
OSHA’s concern for the mental health of the American workforce is generally supported by the regulated community, according to law firm Seyfarth Shaw. However, OSHA doesn’t have regulations addressing workplace stress and “generally does not regulate mental health hazards, even to the extent they could be work-related.”
If OSHA does attempt to regulate workplace stress, it would have to do so under the General Duty Clause. To prove a citation relating to workplace stress, Seyfarth Shaw said OSHA would need to show:
- a recognized hazard of workplace stress specific to the worksite
- that the employer was aware of the recognized hazard (or should have been)
- that the employer had a “feasible or useful” means of addressing the hazard, and
- that the efforts the employer undertook to address the hazard were insufficient.
No enforcement yet, but it’s on agency’s radar
The agency doesn’t have procedures in place to cover workplace stress in inspections and no standards covering it other than the General Duty Clause. This means OSHA probably isn’t equipped to inspect for “hazardous levels of workplace stress” or even hand out a General Duty Clause citation at this point.
But, as Seyfarth Shaw points out, “workplace stress is clearly on OSHA’s radar screen and we can anticipate further activity as OSHA comes up to speed on the issue.”