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Are The HSE Making Progress on Work Related Stress?

Posted on November 13, 2019

Mental health and work related stress is a top priority for many employers and government bodies. In fact it is one of the top three health priorities for The Health and Safety Executive. However, the problem of work related stress is increasing. In fact work related stress, depression or anxiety became the most common work related illness for the first time. Cases rose by 13% to 1,800 per 100,000 workers in the 12 months to April 2018, when compared with 2016-17.

According to HSE statistics around 595,000 UK employees reported feeling stressed, depressed or anxious in 2017-18. Accounted for 15.4 million working days were lost to ill health. This is 57% of the total days for the period.

Even though more and more emphasis is being placed on mental heath. The guidelines from the HSE have not been updated since 2004. Despite all the studies which will have been completed in that time and the wealth of new knowledge available. The advice for employers to deal with these situations had not changed for over 14 years.

This is a situation which HSE’s principal inspector Andrew Kingscott described as shocking. Adding, “The management standards have been in place for 14 years and you think, ‘Hold on a minute, we’re not really making progress’,” he said. “If we had another piece of legislation or a standard that had been in [place] for 14 years and we were missing it by a country mile, I don’t think we’d feel too bad if the regulator was taking some robust enforcement. This is something the HSE is going to look to promote more.”

What are The HSE’s Plans?

As a result of the factors mentioned above, the HSE has now released new guidance on how it will be dealing with reports of workplace stress. According to the new guidelines, the HSE will consider investigation concerns of work related stress when, there is evidence that a number of staff are currently experiencing work related stress or stress related ill health. This means that the Health and Safety Executive will not be looking at individual cases.

The HSE has also reiterated that they are not the appropriate body to be investigating individual cases of bullying or harassment. The HSE will not be looking to apply the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 where there is other more suitable legislation or a more appropriate regulatory body. This is due to the fact that these cases are more commonly dealt with as disciplinary issues. Such as breaches of workplace policy on behaviours, discrimination or victimisation.

However, they have also confirmed that they will be considering cases if there appears to be evidence of a wider organisational failing.

Finally the HSE also expects that any concerns over work related stress should have been raised with the employer. And as well as this, the employer should be given a reasonable amount of time to respond to the concerns.

Is this Work Related Stress Stance Enough?

Even with the updates made by the HSE, there are many within the health and safety industry that aren’t sure if enough action is being taken. Or if they are taking enough responsibility for the issue. The head of advice and practice at IOSH, Duncan Spencer feels the regulatory body needs to do more. “The HSE needs to do much more in looking at how organisations either prevent emotional hazards or recognise their causes early so mitigations can be put in place,” he noted. “This is so much more tricky to achieve when anyone’s mental health is a pendulum on a sliding scale from healthy, to coping, to struggling and then ill health.  Being preventative means we have to find applications at the coping stage, not wait to the struggling stage, when existing popular controls kick in.”

“More than this, we need to look for emotional mitigations, rational and more typical controls such as policy, procedure and process are not necessarily the most effective. The HSE needs to start to analyse and enforce on organisations if they have inadequate preventative measures in place. After all, mental harm from emotional hazard does fall under the HSWA.”

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