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Frequently asked questions

The following is a selection of the most commonly asked questions relating to stress and the HSE's Management Standards approach to its management.

If your question is not here and you cannot find the information you need anywhere on this website, please use the contact us page to ask the question. If it is relevant to others we may update this section with that question and its answer.

Stress and its impact

What is work related stress?

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.

Why is work related stress an issue?

There is no doubt that work related stress is a serious problem for UK employers. In 2010/11:

  • 211 000 new cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety reported in the previous 12 months;
  • 400 000 in Britain report work related stress at a level they believe is making them ill;
  • Each case of stress related ill health leads to an average of 27 days off work;
  • A total of 10.8 million working days were lost in Britain to work related stress.

Why should employers be concerned about work related stress?

Employers should be concerned about stress because:

  • they have a legal and moral duty to ensure that their workers and others that visit their premises are not injured or made ill because of the work they do.
  • The staff absence and loss of productivity stress causes has a financial impact on business.
  • Certain elements of poor work design (eg where an employee has little or no control over the work they do or where there is little support from managers or colleagues) have been shown to have a real impact on staff performance and reliability, even before an individual takes time off.
  • It has an adverse impact on staff retention and recruitment, again causing additional costs to the business.
  • Indemnity Insurance premiums may increase, and there may, in severe cases, be issues about litigation by those experiencing the stress.

See also:

What you should be doing

What does the law require employers to do?

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).

What are the Management Standards?

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:

  • Demand – Issues like workload, work pattern and the work environment.
  • Control – What say the person has about the way they do their work.
  • Support – Including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the employer, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships – Including promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – Whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles.
  • Change – How organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

HSE's Management Standards for Stress website provides employers with a comprehensive risk assessment approach to identifying, exploring and tackling work related stress.

Why hasn't HSE issued an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP)?

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.

Will HSE prosecute employers who don't use the Management Standards approach?

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.

Can I use a different approach?

Yes, but any alternative approach must include the key features for a risk assessment.

What can employees do?

Familiarise yourself with HSE's risk factors and stress management process, eg the Management Standards, so you can contribute more fully to discussions

  • Talk to your union safety representative, your employee rep or line manager about your employer's approach to the stress management.
  • Help to develop and put in place effective plans by taking part in discussions or stress risk assessments.
  • Your employer will need information from you, so make sure you complete any questionnaires when you are asked to and give open and honest answers.
  • Volunteer to attend discussion groups, action-planning meetings etc. They're for your benefit, and your managers will need your help in deciding what will work and what will not.
  • Remember that consultation is a two-way process. Your managers must take your opinions into consideration when deciding what actions to take, and must communicate the reasons for their decisions.
  • Read all communications. Make sure you understand the reasons for decisions and provide feedback if required.
  • Attend any stress management training courses arranged by your employer, which will help you understand stress and how to deal with it.

HSE produces a leaflet which explains an employee’s role within the Management Standards.

How much will it cost to implement 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.

Will the Management Standards make it easier for employees to sue for work related stress?

No. The Management Standards approach should actually make it easier for employers to demonstrate they have acted reasonably – provided they have followed it or something similar.

See also:

Which health and safety laws apply to stress?

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.

Is stress a reportable industrial injury (e.g. under RIDDOR)?

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.

Civil Cases and Litigation

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, click here to see “Work related stress; what the law says”.

See also:

Enforcement

What type of action are HSE's inspectors prepared to take?

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.

Will HSE initiate enforcement action for those organisations who obtain a satisfaction rating below that in the Stress Management Standards?

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.

About this website

Can I download the Case Studies videos on the Stress website?

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.

Is it possible to have a sector specific version of the Indicator Tool for my sector?

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.

See also:

Updated 2012-12-18