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Health and safety tips to protect your employees from the risk of workplace stress

The effective management of workplace stress can often be overlooked by businesses. We review the importance of organisational wide management so as to both prevent business critical situations and ensure compliance with those applicable legislative obligations. 

We are all very familiar with the term “work related stress” but unfortunately most of us might feel as though it is not correctly addressed or prevented in the workplace. It is estimated that one in six employees will suffer from a mental health problem borne out of work related stress.

The correct starting point would be to consider exactly what is work related stress? The HSE’s formal definition of stress is: “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”.

Stress can be causative of high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and perhaps of greater significance, employee errors. Importantly stress can affect anyone, at any level, within all sectors.

It is essential employers recognise the importance of addressing stress in the workplace before it is too late and before it has drastic consequences on not only the individual but the business as a whole. Promoting health and well-being from the outset can produce really positive results.

Of equal importance in the UK, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of employees whilst at work. Key to this is the related requirement to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the health and safety risks to which employees are exposed whilst they are at work, including assessing the risk of stress related ill-health arising from work activities.

Since work related stress can have many causal factors and effects, a comprehensive approach to prevention is the most effective and should be guided by close collaboration between managers and workers. Employers must ensure employees are given the correct tools they require to meet the daily pressures that come with their role. As a manager and employer you have a duty to ensure work pressures do not make your team ill and to assess each situation accordingly.

We have put together some practical tips below which employers can use to manage the risk to their employees and discharge those responsibilities under health and safety legislation:

  • Recognise that organisational and individual health are key components of business performance.
  • Appreciate, and communicate to the business, that everyone has a responsibility for tackling work related stress. Attitudes of senior management will set the tone and culture of the organisation especially when sensitive issues are addressed. This is at the core of promoting health and well-being.
  • Ensure that appropriate risk assessments and corresponding control measures are in place in compliance with legislation and are reviewed at regular intervals.
  • Identify the main risk factors and focus on the underlying causes and their prevention.
  • Promote active discussions and encourage staff to be as open as possible if they are having problems or feeling stressed. This will enable employers to resolve issues at an early stage and feed into those assessments of risk required under legislation. Most importantly, this will tackle any potential issues before they become a business critical problem.
  • Have robust bullying/stress grievance and disciplinary policies in place and make sure they are complied with strictly.

For more information and tools on tackling stress you can visit the HSE website where a number of comprehensive steps are set out to assist Health and Safety Managers with this process - http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/roles/hsmanagers.htm

Should you require any further assistance managing work related stress and your responsibilities under health and safety legislation, please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialists below.

Author: Rosie Spencer

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.