Employers have duty to try to prevent work-related stress

A new standard (PAS 1010) to help organisations assess and manage the risks associated with work-related stress was published in February 2011 by the British Standards Institute (BSI). It should be a significant aid to employers in an area of workplace health that still lacks a recognised standard or official benchmark for good practice (an overview of the standard can be found at http://shop.bsigroup.com/en/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030213276).

The standard and accompanying training courses (to be developed by Nottingham University) are most likely to be used by HR managers/specialists, occupational health and safety managers/specialists, managers and owners of small and medium-sized businesses, and employee representatives that wish to:

  • establish a strategy and process to manage the psychosocial risks (a major cause of stress) associated with their activities, and protect workers and others who could be exposed to such hazards;
  • implement, maintain and continually improve their psychosocial risk-management process and related practices;
  • assure themselves of their conformity with stated occupational health and safety and psychosocial risk policy.

Organisations should manage their psychosocial risks (risks associated with work organisation and the social context of work which have the potential for causing psychological or physical ill health) as much as its organisational culture and employee relations. According to the BSI, psychosocial risks at work are a significant trigger to stress and if the guidelines help reduce this, it could save businesses in the EU €20 million (£17.98 million) a year.

In addition, employers actually have a responsibility to be proactive in preventing work-related stress. According to the Health and Safety Executive:

All employers have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health safety and welfare at work of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees.”

According to Dr Stavroula Leka, Associate Professor in Occupational Health Psychology, University of Nottingham, “The PAS will assist organizations to implement best practice in the area of psychosocial risk assessment and management so that they can promote good health among their staff.” It is generally accepted that employee mental and physical health and wellbeing are crucial to business success, yet many businesses struggle in this area. Particularly in smaller organisations, time and financial constraints make it difficult for managers to get to grips with employee health issues, particularly where no in-house occupational health resources are in place.

The Health for Work Adviceline (www.health4work.nhs.uk0800 0 77 88 44) has been set up with the specific aim of helping businesses with fewer than 250 employees to get immediate advice and support to help an employee experiencing ill health, develop a plan to effectively and sympathetically deal with employee sickness absence, and establish how to deal with similar problems in the future, should they occur.

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