This month’s National Stress Awareness Day has focussed attention on the problem of stress in the workplace and is a reminder to employers that stress is a health and safety issue that they ignore at their peril.
The Health and Safety Executive believes that last year in Britain over 11 million working days were lost as a result of stress related illness and estimates that 415,000 individuals experienced work related stress at levels that made them ill. This makes stress the second most common work-related illness and almost double that of back pain.
Many are forecasting that stress at work is likely to rise in the recession, as businesses try to reduce costs; employees who leave may not be replaced, and in the worst case scenario, businesses may have to make redundancies. As a result, the burden on employees may increase, while worries about job security might make employees reluctant to tell employers that they feel overworked or suffering from stress.
“Employers cannot ignore the dangers of stress; they can be sued or even prosecuted for failing to ensure safety standards at work and this applies to the mental health and safety of employees just as it applies to their physical safety,” explained employment law specialist Jane Dismore of Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP.
“Recent proposals by the Government to press people to come off incapacity benefits and sickness-related benefits, and back into employment, also means that employers may be engaging with people who are not used to employment, which is likely to further increase employer responsibility.”
Against this backdrop, the Health and Safety Executive are encouraging employers to adopt effective strategies to combat stress, saying it can pay dividends in increased productivity. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council has reduced the number of days lost to stress-related absence by 13194 days within a year of introducing such a strategy.
The Department for Work and Pensions has an online centre for health, work and well-being issues at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/health-work-and-well-being/news/ with links to information elsewhere, including the Business Link Workplace Well-Being Tool, which allows employers to calculate the cost of ill health in the company.