RR449 - Defining a case of work-related stress

This research considers the feasibility and possible nature of a case definition of work-related stress that is suitable for application in a variety of stakeholder domains. The most important of these, for this research, is that of the epidemiological domain. The overall issue is important in two different contexts. First, it is needed in occupational health epidemiology as the basis for surveillance, and for monitoring the effectiveness of interventions. Second, it is of obvious importance in determining the award of compensation in civil litigation, employee liability insurance and industrial injury claims.

The research involved two parallel studies. The first concerned the nature of case definitions already applied within epidemiological surveys recently conducted into work-related stress in the UK. The second study involved identifying key stakeholders and harvesting information on (i) the case definitions employed in their various fields and (ii) their views on the feasibility of developing a single case definition that could span all domains while remaining consistent with epidemiological case definitions.

The conclusion drawn from these two studies was that no simple and universal case definition is possible, largely because of the complex nature of work-related stress. While it is not possible to resolve the different requirements and practices of the various stakeholder groups to produce such a case definition, it is possible to develop a case definition for application in epidemiological surveys that is broadly compatible with thinking and practice in other domains studied. An epidemiological case definition and associated assessment framework was arrived at by consensus and acknowledged across stakeholder groups as appropriate for application within the occupational health epidemiological domain.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2021-04-20