The following is a selection of the most commonly asked questions relating to stress and the HSE's Management Standards approach to its management.
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Work related stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work. There is a clear distinction between pressure which can be a motivating factor, and stress, which can occur when this pressure becomes excessive.
There is no doubt that work related stress is a serious problem for UK employers. In 2010/11:
Employers should be concerned about stress because:
Employers have duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities; and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take measures to control that risk. There are practical things that organisations can do to manage the risks associated with work related stress.
The HSE proposes an approach based on a set of Management Standards that provide employers with a comprehensive risk assessment approach to identifying, exploring and tackling work related stress. Further information is available on this website or from the HSE's leaflet ‘Managing the Causes of work related stress, A step-by step approach using the Management Standards' published 2007 (HSG 218).
The Management Standards identify the following six key areas that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and well being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence:
HSE's Management Standards for Stress website provides employers with a comprehensive risk assessment approach to identifying, exploring and tackling work related stress.
The first step to developing an Approved Code of Practice is to ensure that there is firm evidence that the solution proposed is either the only solution or the best solution to meet the problem. . Academics agree that it is difficult to prescribe ready made solutions to stress. HSE believes that, if presented with a simple approach, clear standards against which to measure progress, and a convincing business case, organisations will not only realise the benefit of tackling work related stress, but will be in a better position to do so. However the HSE will keep the need for an Approved Code of Practice under review.
HSE's approach to tackling work related stress is guidance only and represents a potential solution. It is designed as an easy to follow process which includes supporting guidance, forms and tools to allow any organisation to provide a stress management process at minimal cost.
HSE will undertake enforcement action where duty holders fail to carry out the legally required suitable and sufficient risk assessment. An organisation would be unlikely to be subject to enforcement action by HSE provided it could demonstrate it had adequately assessed the risks and was taking steps to address any problems identified.
Yes, but any alternative approach must include the key features for a risk assessment.
Familiarise yourself with HSE's risk factors and stress management process, eg the Management Standards, so you can contribute more fully to discussions
HSE produces a leaflet which explains an employee’s role within the Management Standards.
It depends on what you already have in place and what needs to be done. The majority of the tools, forms and guidance required are available on this website for free download. It should be understood that the savings brought about by managing work related stress should outweigh any costs. A healthier workforce is more efficient and productive and suffers from less sickness absence and staff turnover.
Employers have duties under the “Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations,” 1999, to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take measures to control that risk. The Management Standards are not legal requirements – they are guidance which is intended to help and encourage employers to meet their legal obligations.
No, neither work related stress nor stress-related illnesses are reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
This is because the causes of stress-related ill health are usually extremely complex and linking conditions to specific types of work activity would be very difficult. This does not mean that stress cannot be raised with the enforcing authorities nor does it mean that a complaint cannot be made which could result in an investigation. While work related stress is not reportable, employers have duties to assess and manage the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities.
There have been a number of cases in the Civil Courts and still more have been settled out of Court, often without admission of liability by the employer.
Wheeldon v HSBC (2000)
Mrs Wheeldon (part time job share manager) was signed off work for three weeks due to stress after suffering a panic attack at work. Alternative posts were offered to the claimant upon her return, but she opted to remain were she was. Despite a report warning of a reoccurrence of the symptoms her manager made no changes to her duties which ultimately led to Mrs Wheeldon's resignation. It was the court's decision that the employer had breached its duty of care and allowed her depression to “continue and flourish”. Damages were awarded and a further payment for pain, suffering and loss of amenities.
Melville v Home Office
The claimant suffered flashbacks and nightmares after witnessing a number of suicides in his work at a prison. There was no sign of work related stress before he stopped work. Staff care and support arrangements were in place if a death occurred, with the onus on the employee to ask for this care. In this case, the claimant was unaware of how to access this help and it was not offered to him. It was decided that the scheme was an adequate one but a breach of duty arose when it was not implemented. The claimant was successful.
Hartman v South Essex Mental Health and Community Care NHS Trust (2005)
The claimant had a history of breakdown that was reported to the Occupational Health Doctor who passed her as fit for the job. In later years, her depression recurred. In the first instance, it was decided that it was reasonably foreseeable to the employer, but at appeal, it was ruled that this information was held in confidence between the claimant and the doctor, and it was not foreseeable to management. The original ruling was overturned.
For more information about civil cases and interpretations of law, see ‘Work related stress; what the law says’.
HSE has issued improvement notices in respect of work related stress where employers have failed to assess the risk of work related stress in the workplace or where having carried out a risk assessment they have failed take adequate steps to address those risks.
No. HSE's approach to tackling work related stress is not enforcement led. However, where appropriate HSE will investigate complaints relating to work related stress and enforcement action may be taken if there is clear evidence of a breach of health and safety law, and a demonstrable risk to the health and safety of employees.
An organisation that has carried out a risk assessment based on the Management Standards or a similar approach that identified major problems/issues, would be unlikely to be subject to enforcement action if it could demonstrate it was taking steps to address those problems/issues.
The case studies on the Individual Experience Case Studies page can be downloaded by clicking the 'download video' section for general use. If the video is to be re-used as part of a commercial product or service, the user will have to apply for a Public Sector Information (PSI for short) Crown copyright click-use licence at the Office of Public Sector Information website . Users will have to agree to the obligations placed on licence holders which can be viewed on the OPSI site.
An enhanced DVD of the case studies which incorporates subtitling in English and Welsh and a British Sign Language facility can be purchased from HSE Books, ISBN 9780717663910, £10.00 + VAT.
There have been discussions both within HSE and with sector representatives about the viability of sector specific versions of the Indicator Tool. Although it may be relatively straightforward to develop new questions and validate them to develop alternative versions of the indicator tool there are significant challenges to be overcome.
To develop a sector specific questionnaire all staff in that sector would need to work in similar organisations but this is unlikely to be the case and there may be significant differences within the sector. For example within the NHS there are foundation trusts, acute trust, mental health trusts, ambulance trusts etc. all of which believe they are unique and all of whom want specific versions of our tools. The same is true of education where there are not only issues with the level of education, Primary, Higher, Further education etc. but there are Foundation Schools, LEA Schools, Charity Schools, Fee Paying schools, Academies, Universities, Colleges etc, and again these all consider they have unique situations that would require specific versions of the tools.
For each version of the indicator tool created there would need to be an equivalent version of the analysis tool and associated benchmark data. This would be a time consuming task and would consume a significant amount of HSE resource.
The purpose of the Indicator Tool is to provide an indication of an organisation's performance against the six risk factors identified within the Management Standards. The Indicator Tool is one tool that should be used as part of a larger process; the data from the indicator tool should not be used in isolation but compared with other data available from within the organisation. The results should then be discussed with staff within the organisation to identify whether a problem exists, where that problem is and what to do next.