Legal issues, HSE and government guidance
THE LEGAL SITUATION
There are no laws specifically relating
to stress. The legal aspects of stress are extremely complex
and covered by a number
of areas of legislation, with new employment laws that have a
bearing on stress related problems appearing on a regular basis.
This makes it very confusing for the employer. However, to date,
most successful stress cases have been through civil
courts as personal injury claims.
Employers have always been under a general duty under the law
of negligence to take reasonable care for the health and safety
of their employees. The employee must satisfy the court (on
balance of probabilities) that an action wasn’t reasonable
or practical under the specific set of circumstances. The courts
have been increasingly willing to accept personal injury claims
for stress related illness.
ApP works with managers to help them understand the concept
of stress and how to reduce the likelihood of personal injury
HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK ETC ACT 1974
Although all the above legislation is relevant to stress the
act most commonly associated with stress is Health and Safety
at Work etc. Act 1974. In Section 2 (1) of this Act, employers
have an overall duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably
practicable the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. This
includes taking steps to make sure they do not suffer stress-related
illness as a result of their work. The duty extends to mental
as well as physical health. This means that employers need to
be aware of any situations where employees could be harmed, assessing
the risk and taking action if deemed necessary.
However, the Act doesn’t mean that the employer must act
at all costs and they need to weigh up the degree of risk in
the workplace versus the time, trouble, cost and physical difficulty
of taking measures to avoid or reduce the risk. If an employer
were to be taken to court for breach of duty under the Act they
must satisfy the court (beyond reasonable doubt) that an action
wasn’t practicable or reasonable under the specific set
NB Under the Act employees also have a duty for their own safety.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1999
In 1992 The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations
were introduced (subsequently updated in 1995 and 1999). These
regulations state employees have a legal duty to identify hazards
and take action. They therefore require the employer to carry
out regular risk assessments, identify hazards and taking action.
As the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 now includes harm
by work related stress, under The Management of Health and Safety
at Work Regulation 1999 there is also a duty on employers to
carry out regular risk assessments to ensure staff are not harmed
To help organisations meet these legal duties of care the HSE
have produced a variety of different guidelines. The latest - “.Managing
the causes of work-related stress” ( November 2007) describes
the major cause of stress at work (the risk factors) and shows
employers how to carry out a risk assessment for work related
stress using the 5 step risk assessment process.
STRESS RISK ASSESSMENT PROCESS
Unfortunately carrying out a risk assessment for work-related
stress is more difficult than for other health hazards.
- Most people do not fully understand the stress concept.
- People may not want to show or admit they are stressed.
- It is impossible to separate home and work stress yet an organisation
is not responsible for home pressures.
It cannot be carried out by the H&S officer like fire
hazards as everyone is different. One person may be more
at risk than
another in the same circumstances.
A stress risk assessment can be carried out at either a collective
or individual level.
A collective risk assessment involves determining problems common
to a whole population and working with that population to find
solutions. Depending on the size of the organisation this may
be done at organisational level departmental level or team level
An individual risk assessment involves a manager discussing
a problem with individual employees and trying to determine reasonable
and practicable solutions for both parties.
While the HSE state that “systems should be in place to
deal with individual differences” they also state that “collective
protective measures must be given priority over individual protective
The HSE guidance therefore shows employees how to carry out
a collective risk assessment.
The guidance explains how to carry out a stress risk assessment
using the familiar 5 steps
However, to be more manager friendly it is better to think of
the statements in the terms shown in black.
- Identify the Hazards (Understand the
causes of stress at work – the HSE risk factors and
the Stress Management Standards)
- Decide who may be harmed and how (Gather data)
- Evaluate the risk (Explore problems and develop solutions)
- Record your finding (Develop and implement action plans)
- Monitor and review
Stage 1 - Understand the causes of stress at work
This basically involves all employees at all levels familiarising
themselves with the risk factors and Management Standards so
they are aware of causes and what can generically be done to
Here managers are expected to have an understanding of stress
such that they need to acknowledge that stress has the potential
to affect any member of staff and recognise that the risk factors
can affect people in different ways. Under a certain set of circumstances
stress can happen to anybody and stress should therefore not
be seen as a weakness.
ApP delivers training programmes to help both employees and
understand the concept of stress,
- tackle the myths and stigma of stress and mental health
- understand the causes of stress at home and at work
- identify symptoms of stress
- to explain the risk assessment process
Click HERE for
more information about stress management training courses
Stage 2 – Gather data
This is the heavy weight stage and the stage that many mistakenly
describe as risk assessment as this is where employers need to
gather data and identify causes of stress in the organisation.
(NB All five stages together comprise the risk assessment not
just part 2) To identify causes of stress the HSE recommends
a variety of methods.
First, existing quantitative data such as staff absence figures
and productivity data can be used to identify hot spots. Data
from staff satisfaction surveys may also be very useful.
The HSE suggest that organisations may also like to use a stress
survey. There are many commercially available surveys on the
market which vary in depth and quality of data generated. Some
are generic while some may be a tailored to a specific organisation.
The HSE have also produced a generic survey available on their
In addition to quantitative data, the HSE also suggest that
qualitative information may be used too. This can be gained by
running specific focus groups or less formally via team meetings,
appraisals, return to work interviews and exit interviews. Throughout,
organisations are advised to use a combination of methods.
The final step in stage three is then to communicate the results
to all levels of the organisation. The manager can then move
on to step 3
ApP carries out stress audits
for the organisation or helps organisations do this in
house. We also run focus groups to determine
causes of stress at work and produce full reports. Focus
groups can be included as part of stress management training
a very cost effective way of tackling the issue.
Stage 3 - Explore problems and develop solutions
This stage involves managers discussing the results of step 2 with staff. The
aim is to try to determine what is being done well and what areas need improvement.
There is a need here to decide on targets for improvement. For each risk
factor managers need to ask “Are we doing enough?” “What
do we currently have in place?” “What is working well?” “What
else needs to be done?” Staff at all levels need to be involved in
this stage and opinions and ideas valued. All members of staff need to communicate
with openness and honesty.
ApP facilitates focus groups to try to find solutions and works
with managers to help them put these into practice.
Stage 4 - Develop and implement action plans
In developing an action plan senior management and employee representatives
of all levels should be involved. A major requirement here again is communication.
Writing an action plan enables managers to set goals to work
towards, prioritise important issues and demonstrate to all that
they are serious about addressing employees’ concerns.
Action plans also provide something to evaluate and review against
which is the final step.
ApP helps managers to write action plans
Stage 5 - Monitor and review
This stage is often forgotten but is still a major part of the
5 step risk assessment process. If stress management is to be
successful it is important that progress is monitored. This can
be done using the action plan to ensure all actions have been
satisfactorily undertaken. In doing this the effectiveness of
the actions taken can be evaluated and any necessary changes
made. Again at this final stage the HSE emphasise the need to
update senior managers and employees on progress and provide
them with the opportunity for feedback.
In addition to the 5 steps the HSE also stress the importance
running the process as a proper project,
writing a stress policy and
gaining senior management commitment.
ApP helps organisations with all aspects of preparation and
runs specially designed training courses for projects groups
to help them understand the risk assessment process and plan
how best to carry it out within the confines of the organisation.
ApP helps project groups
and H&S managers
ApP runs special awareness seminars for senior managers to help
Anderson at the launch of the HSE Management Standards
THE STRESS MANAGEMENT STANDARDS
The Stress Management Standards are basically a means to measure
the success and progress an organisation has in managing stress.
They are not new legislation but are intended to help employers
meet their existing duties under HSWA and MHSW Regs.
There are 6 Standards based on the 6 risk factors for stress.
Each Standard comprises a major statement about good management
practice and represents a desirable state to be achieved. In
to this major statement, each standard is accompanied by a
number of additional statements. These explain what should be
happening in the organisation if the standard is to be achieved.
HERE to see the Mangement
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