UK: Breaking Point? HSE To Tackle Growing Epidemic Of Work-Related Stress

Last Updated: 14 May 2019
Article by Nathan Buckley

Most Read Contributor in UK, May 2019

Co-authored by Dr Libby Artingstall, Co-Founder and Director of Team Mental Health

"Whether you work with 10 people, 10,000 people or just yourself, paying attention to mental health in the workplace has never been more important"1

With the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently reaffirming its commitment to tackling work-related stress, in this article we consider what is meant by this, the impact of work-related stress on mental and physical health, and what steps businesses can take to measure and reduce stress in the workplace. We also examine the potentially significant implications of ignoring this issue and whether a tough approach from the HSE will ensure that stress is brought to the forefront of discussions in the workplace. 

Everyone's business

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of wellbeing reflecting an ability to cope with day to day difficulties, realise and achieve potential, and contribute to communities.2 Like physical health, mental health is something that everyone has. Mental ill health reflects a deterioration in mental health which can impact negatively on our ability to interact with and understand others, to function, and to care for ourselves or others.

Whilst work related stress itself is not considered a mental illness, it is a significant risk factor for developing one.3 When it is prolonged, work-related stress can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions. 

With over 15 million days lost at work every year because of work-related stress4, what is clear is that it is everyone's business. 

  • 1.4 million workers suffering from work-related stress5
  • Stress, depression or anxiety is the most commonly reported cause of work-related ill health in Great Britain6
  • One in four people in the UK will experience mental ill health at some point7
  • Mental health problems are the largest single source of disability in the UK8
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death in young people under 35 and men under 509
  • Work-related stress accounts for 44% of all cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health in the UK10
  • The overall economic cost of work related stress in the UK is estimated to be £5 billion11

What is work-related stress? 

It's important to recognise the difference between pressure and stress. Pressure in work can be a positive thing. It can motivate, drive ambition and enhance performance; but only to a point. Stress reflects the place after this point. When pressure becomes overwhelming and difficult to manage, performance declines, as can mental and physical health.12 The HSE defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them"13.

Research shows that people exposed to prolonged periods of work-related stress are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as an anxiety disorder or depression14. Alongside this, there is also evidence to suggest that there can be a negative impact when it comes to our physical health. Chronic low levels of stress and repeated activation of the stress response and the physiological reaction that ensues can result in increased blood pressure and contribute to the build-up of fat tissue and weight gain thus increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, renal problems and diabetes15.

As such, through reducing risk, recognising the signs and managing stress effectively we can limit the likelihood of associated mental or physical illness. 

HSE priorities

The HSE's Business Plan for 2019/20 sets out priorities for the HSE, building on the previous year's plan and drawing on the sector plans and Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy. 2019/20 marks the third year of the HSE's focus on tackling three major causes of work-related ill health: musculoskeletal disorders, occupational lung disease and work-related stress. The plan highlights specific priorities, within an overall framework that reinforces the ongoing commitment to major issues including mental health and work-related stress.

In their Priority Plan for work-related stress, the HSE state that they will develop a suite of leading indicators that will measure stress risk management performance in businesses/sectors. Over the course of the next year, the HSE will focus on "supporting the provision of appropriate tools to support the management of stress"16, including:

  • Publishing bespoke work-related stress material for public sector organisations, including "Talking Toolkits" informed by the HSE's public stress pilots and work on violence in the NHS and Prison Service.
  • Publishing updated advice for SMEs on assessing work-related stress risks using the Management Standards.

Risk management

Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to carry out a "suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of its employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work and  to put into place appropriate measures to control them". Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of the risk assessment. 

Whether an employer is a small business or a large corporation, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and put steps in place to tackle those risks, either by removing the risk or reducing it as far as reasonably practicable. Although employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work, diagnosing and treating stress is not their responsibility. 

The HSE's position is that work-related stress should be treated as any other workplace hazard. The HSE wants to see a significant increase in the number of employers taking a proactive stance to managing work-related stress through the Management Standards approach (the HSE's approach for preventing stress at work), which helps identify and manage the six causes of stress at work, namely: demands; control; change; relationships; support; and role17.

Reducing risk

Set out below are the six causes as identified by the HSE in the Management Standards, with corresponding risk and protective factors18. Risk factors predispose an experience whereas protective factors reduce the likelihood or limit the impact of an experience. Through minimising risk factors and optimising protective factors we can seek to prevent or reduce the risk of work-related stress19.

Recognising and managing stress The signs of stress will vary from person to person and it is important to be aware of how we may feel, think or act during times of stress. Some signs of stress can include20:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling irritable or argumentative
  • Angry outbursts
  • Loss of motivation
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Reduced performance
  • Indifference
  • Poor time keeping
  • Taking more time off work
  • Using unhealthy ways to cope more frequently

Once stress is identified, early intervention is possible with stress management strategies to limit its negative impact. Again, effective stress management will vary from person to person, so it is important to take some time to explore what works for the individual.

  • Be active and spend time outside in green space
  • Make time to connect with and spend time with others
  • Set yourself new challenges or rediscover an old interest or hobby
  • Be kind to yourself and others
  • Find time to regularly relax
  • Express gratitude
  • Be present and appreciate of what's around you 
  • Seek support from a health care professional
  • /ul>

    While the individual benefits of reducing and managing stress are clear, it's important to consider the organisational benefits of taking proactive, preventative action. Key positive outcomes can include a happier, healthier and more productive workforce; reduced absenteeism and presenteeism; improved staff retention; protection from reputational damage and reduced risk of litigation; and improved desirability as a workplace21.

    Time for change

    The HSE's continuing tough stance against those who breach their legal health and safety duties should encourage employers to sit up and take note. In 2017/18, out of 6,000 investigations, there were 8,940 enforcement notices and 517 prosecution cases, with a 95% conviction rate.

    Furthermore, £72.6 million was secured in fines for health and safety offences prosecuted by the HSE and, in Scotland, the COPFS22.

    But how will this translate to work-related stress? With the HSE historically tackling physical (rather than mental) ill-health, how do they propose to measure compliance and effectively enforce breaches?

    Unlike for occupational lung disease and musculoskeletal disorders, the HSE have not specifically pledged to prioritise interventions, inspection activity and enforcement on high-risk sectors/activities. They have simply stated that they "will provide an effective regulatory framework by researching the continued effectiveness of the Management Standards approach". 

    The HSE state that if an employer follows the Management Standards approach above, they will be adopting an approach that is considered suitable and sufficient. It will be interesting to see whether the HSE during routine inspections request copies of risk assessments relating to work-related stress and whether failure to have one in place will result an improvement notice being issued. 

    Certainly if the regulatory regime is to have teeth, it needs to be supported by an effective programme of pursuing those who fail to follow those standards, whether that is through targeted inspection, enforcement notices and/or prosecution. Our initial view is that improvement notices will be used in the first instance: it remains to be seen if the HSE show an appetite in the future to prosecute businesses who fail to comply with their duties.

    The mental health of individuals at work is beginning to be treated as an issue that deserves recognition and respect. Only time will tell if the HSE's commitment to making work-related stress everyone's business will be sufficient to drive change. 

    Footnotes

    1. Mental Health at Work- https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/

    2. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/

    3. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

    4. http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm 

    5. HSE Business Plan 2019/20

    6. HSE Business Plan 2019/20

    7. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

    8. Work Health Expert Committee Report 2018

    9. World Health Organisation, 2008; MQ, 2017; Office for National Statistics, 2017

    10. HSE Business Plan 2019/20

    11. HSE Priority Plan- Work-Related Stress

    12. http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6062

    13. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm

    14. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

    15. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-thestress-response

    16. HSE Business Plan 2019/20

    17. http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm

    18. Acas, 2017; Health & Safety Executive, 2018

    19. http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/s/j/Promoting_Mental_Health_Nov.pdf

    20. Hobbs, 2017; Health & Safety Executive, 2018b; NHS, 2017; Sheffield, 2015

    21. Mills et al, 2007; Knapp, McDaid & Parsonage, 2011; Health and Safety Executive 2008; Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health 2007; NICE, 2009; Stevenson & Farmer, 2017; Walters, 2019

    22. HSE Business Plan 2019/20

    The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Haseltine Lake Kempner LLP
Withers LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Haseltine Lake Kempner LLP
Withers LLP
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions