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Employee stress and anxiety – is it really your problem?

It may come as a surprise to many that the common medical condition that now keeps most workers away from work is not as was previously and consistently shown as that of muscular-skeletal disorders – or as we would call it, having a bad back! This has been replaced by mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression.

It may be difficult for many of us to accept that the mental health problems that our employees face outside of work and even inside work, could be our responsibility to deal with whilst in work.

The law makes it clear that we have an obligation to keep our employees and to a certain extent others, safe in the workplace.

Traditionally, this has been seen as keeping them free from harm of a physical nature.

However, employers need to act reasonably to prevent more intangible risks such as stress and anxiety which could be caused in the workplace and of course, a proportion if not all of it, could well be influenced by non-work related factors.

It is difficult to make that assessment, but you should always plan for and deal with mental health issues just as much as you would your fire safety or manual handling arrangements.

Ensure your managers are talking to employees at an early stage when possible issues are raised or identified, and encouraging employees to approach their own GP or make use of any occupational health arrangements you have in place.

You need to assess risks of mental health issues just as you would other risks in the business and document them. As with all risk assessments and similar documents, you should be able to demonstrate that you are following them and that you are managing the needs of your employees that suffer issues like this. This is important not just in terms of regulatory enforcement, but in potential personal injury claims or employment disputes.

It is not unheard of for regulators to take action for failures in this regard and regardless of the legal requirements the obvious benefits to having a workforce that are free from the all the types of mental health issues discussed here, can only benefit the business as a whole.

It is worth remembering that health and safety law stretches beyond the obvious physical risks to dealing with issues that historically perhaps, employers have neglected and cannot afford to do any longer without risking intervention by the regulators, the courts and tribunals.