Health and Safetyby Pete Fisher
Work related stress
Work related stress is a significant health and safety issue; the total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety reported by the HSE for 2014/15 was 440,000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1380 per 100,000 workers.
The Health and Safety Executive define work related stress as:
A harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.
The first step is to recognise that workplace stress is a health and safety issue and the importance of identifying and reducing workplace stressors. Measures can then be taken to reduce and manage stress as far as practicable, some practical suggestions are:
- Train managers on stress awareness in order that they can identify members of their team who may be under pressure at an early stage and take remedial action
- Train staff on coping skills, time management, and so on
- Develop a stress policy outlining the company’s commitment to reducing risk and individual responsibilities together with guidance for both managers and employees
- Make provision for a confidential counselling service and bring it to the attention of staff – this can be done at induction and by notices on intranet sites, notice boards, and so on
- Review working practices and the hours worked by employees
- Ensure that employees have the necessary skills for the work, remember being over-skilled or not fully occupied can lead to stress in the same way as being under-skilled
- Ensure that the workload is reasonably managed and reduce period of intense work pressures as far as possible.
In order to make sensible decisions on stress management the organisation must first identify the extent of this risk. Therefore, a risk assessment should be carried out, taking account of the hazards in the working environment, the possible likelihood of ill health, existing controls and evaluate the level of risk.
The Health and Safety Executive has produced some useful guidance to assist employers prioritise stress control measures focussing on prevention. These can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/stress/index.htm.
Managers have a responsibility towards the health of their staff and this includes the prevention of undue stress at work. Although they cannot be expected to exercise any control over matters that are outside of work there are factors which they can influence such as job demands, the amount of control an individual has over their work and providing the appropriate level of support.
If a manager believes a member of their team may be suffering stress they should arrange to speak to that person and endeavour to find out how they can help them both in the immediate future and longer term. It may also be necessary to consult with HR if the matters are work or organisationally related.
In managing work related stress, primary prevention is the most important aspect of a manager’s duties and they should show understanding towards members of staff who admit to being under too much pressure.
Pressure at work can be good for certain individuals but if the experience of pressure gets too much they may begin to feel stressed.
Irrespective of the source of stress, individuals should speak to their manager or someone else they feel comfortable talking to in the company at an early stage.
It is important for employees to take action at a personal level and to review their lifestyle to try to identify any contributing factors. A simple checklist might include:
- eating on the run, or in a disorganised manner
- smoking, or drinking excessively
- rushing, hurrying, being available to everyone
- doing several jobs at once
- missing breaks, taking work home
- having no time for exercise and relaxation.
In some cases, prolonged stress can lead to physical and/or mental ill health. If an individual thinks they are currently experiencing stress-related ill health they may benefit from a discussion with their own doctor.