ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Stress is a build up of tension within an individual. The person feels pressured or overtaxed because of demands placed upon them which generally occur over a period of months or even years. A final breakdown is the result of a steady erosion of health.128

There are many external factors which contribute to stress as well as those which are associated with stress in the workplace. These are family conflict, social difficulties and problems in the community. In some countries stress is a recognised occupational hazard.5 129

Factors which contribute to work associated stress include:

  • role conflict and ambiguity (unclear job requirements - being given different instructions from different supervisors).
  • inadequate support from supervisors (managers who rarely encourage but are quick to criticise leading to feelings of inadequacy, lack of appreciation and misunderstandings).
  • ineffective performance of managers (lack of consultation on matters which affect staff, care-free less attitude).
    • inadequate performance of subordinates.
  • interpersonal and communication problems with other personnel.
    • conflict with users of the service.
    • over competitive atmosphere.
  • too many demands placed on individuals (lack of resources, unreasonable deadlines, too much responsibility, decision making without time for thought).
  • organisational ineptitude (poor and poorly maintained equipment, excessive administrative red tape, poor management-labour relations, poorly defined organisational structure).
  • constant minor changes to job duties (restructuring, demotion, retraining, redeployment).
    • monotony, lack of opportunities.
    • low salary, low status, low self esteem.

Signs of stress may vary from individual to individual but the most common signs include:

  • headaches: tension, migraine.
  • bowel problems: constipation, diarrhoea.
  • stomach problems: ulcers, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, nervousness.
  • eating problems: loss of appetite, overeating.
  • pain: back pain, neck and shoulders.
  • fatigue and weariness: constantly feeling tired, loss of interest.
  • lack of concentration: easily distracted, becoming obsessive over issues.
    • heart problems: palpitations, racing, pounding.
  • sleep problems: lack of sleep, waking early, inability to get to sleep, waking throughout the night.
  • other health problems: frequent upper respiratory tract and other infections, shortness of breath.
  • emotional instability: depression, outbursts of anger, frequent change of moods.
    • lack of sexual performance and drive.
    • drug and alcohol dependence.
  • work related problems: low morale, frequent sick days, lack of desire for work, lateness, leaving early.

Coping with stress129


  • conduct a stress audit along with safety inspections
  • change a work practice to minimise stress
  • change the environment where practicable
  • provide education in causes and management of stress
  • create an environment that encourages communication
  • monitor staff mental health
  • clearly define work roles and responsibilities


  • identify 'at risk' individuals and offer counselling
  • provide social support (time off for domestic problems etc)
    • ensure that workload is compatible with capabilities (provide retraining and refresher courses if necessary)
  • allow staff input where decisions are made which affect them
  • try to design rosters and schedules to avoid conflicts


BACK to the top of the Glossary Contents List
BACK to the top of the Chemical Contents List