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Stress in the workplace – Criteria released for work-related stress investigations

At the regulatory seminar back in September (where does the time go!) we discussed stress in the workplace and the potential impacts and difficulties companies faced in monitoring a non-tangible health and safety issue.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have now released guidance on how it, as a regulator, investigates stress where there is evidence of a wider organisational failing but does not investigate concerns relating to individual cases of bullying or harassment.

The guidance issued indicates that organisations are taking mental wellbeing seriously and it is reassuring that they recognise mental wellbeing as an important factor in employee’s health in accordance with the law and their duties as an employer

Stress is not reportable under RIDDOR as a notifiable incident/concern. Only where key wider failings are identified is when stress in the workplace becomes relevant for the HSE to perhaps investigate, intervene, and take action.

This comes at a time where a recent survey has indicated that 6 in 10 construction workers suffer work-related mental ill health. The recent health and safety statistics also show a breakdown of work related stress, depression, anxiety figures which explain why the HSE are releasing further guidance on the topic for employers.

In any event, having a system in place which identifies how employees may experience stress, either through their employment or otherwise, whilst in the workplace is important for organisations to deal with not only issues with bullying and harassment for equality reasons, but the wider health and safety remit.

We have now seen the introduction of mental health first aiders within many different sectors to provide a point of contact not only for physical health, but also for mental health. This is one of many introductions that companies may wish to consider.

The issue here is how to actually quantify the problem and then deal with it. It is certainly difficult to devise a system that works for all employees therefore experience has shown behand a general policy for addressing stress – there must be a flexible approach by HR, line managers etc. to implement the policy in specific ways to the individual employee. That individual approach needs to be documented and that individual ‘plans’ need to be considered also as a whole to identify trends and particular organisation wide issues – so they can be addressed.

This approach is useful not only not only in the area or health and safety compliance, but also provides good evidence if you face a personal injury claim from employees for stress!