HSE has issued new criteria for investigating cases of work-related stress, saying that it will investigate if it receives evidence that a “number of staff are experiencing work-related stress or stress-related ill health (ie that it is not an individual case)”.
Although the notice is brief, coming under guidance on how to report a work-related stress concern, it indicates HSE is serious about focusing organisations into properly handling the issue.
Clare Forshaw, partner at Park Health and Safety, and previously HSE’s head of centre for health, commented: “This is a change as HSE now has criteria. If there is a complaint that meets its criteria employers could get an inspection. “If they don’t have a risk assessment for stress that focuses on organisational control they may well be facing enforcement action.”
The HSE guidance refers employers to its management standards to help them tackle stress. This is different to mental ill health but “can lead to physical and mental health conditions and can aggravate existing conditions”.
The stress management standards cover six areas that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates. These areas include workload, line management support, conflict, organisational change and whether people understand their role in the organisation.
Forshaw said it will be these aspects that inspectors will be looking for, rather than education tools such as mental health training. “There are Mental Health First Aiders collecting loads of information that [says] people are suffering and yet the employer does nothing,” she said.
“Hopefully this will turn the tables for employers to do the right thing and manage what they create in the first place, rather than pushing the buck.”
HSE caveats in the guidance, published on 27 September 2019, that it will “balance priorities” when deciding if it has the resources for investigating stress. “HSE is always obliged to make decisions on any investigations in light of other reactive priorities, so this should not be read as a guarantee of how HSE will respond to any specific concern,” it states.
HSE adds it may not be the appropriate body to investigate all cases of work-related stress. It will signpost cases of bullying and harassment to Acas and cases of discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics such as age, race and gender will be passed on to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Work-related stress, anxiety or depression are the main causes of all work-related ill health in Britain, according to HSE’s own statistics.
Workload pressures, including tight deadlines and a lack of managerial support are behind 44 per cent of all cases. Other factors include bullying (13 per cent) and organisational changes at work (8 per cent).
More than 15m working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety with an average of 25.8 days lost per case, according to HSE’s 2017/18 statistics. In total, 57 per cent of all working days lost to ill health were due to stress and anxiety.
HSE’s guidance on reporting concerns about work-related stress can be found at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/reporting-concern.htm