Ignorant about work-related stress?

Ann McCracken, the chair of the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), recently gave a presentation at the USDAW Union Conference in Blackpool, about personal and organisational stress. Her feedback from the event was that many people had been unaware that organisations are required by law to conduct a risk assessment in to stress in the workplace.

This finding is quite amazing when you consider that this requirement is far from new.  Although currently there is no specific law on workplace stress, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, employers have a duty to assess the risk of ill health arising from work activities; and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, 1974, employers must take measures to control that risk.  Employers often have the misconception that this regulation simply relates to ‘slips and trips’, however, the fact is that if they employ five or more people they MUST conduct regular risk assessments on work-related stress and take action to eliminate or reduce the risks.

Over six years ago, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) launched its management standards (on stress) to help employers understand this duty better.  They even developed a tool to help employers measure stress levels in the workplace.  I was one of a small handful of people trained to run a number of workshops on behalf of the HSE and ISMA to promote these standards to employers.  They then embarked on a programme of training health & safety enforcement officers in how to conduct workplace inspections for stress – and following inspection, several organisations were served improvement notices.  On several occasions employers enlisted my help to uncover the extent of the problem (using focus groups and interviews) and devise and implement programmes of activity aimed at lifting these improvement notices. 

Over the years both the HSE and ISMA have been involved in several other endeavours to help organizations tackle work-related stress, so how is it that so many employers and employees remain ignorant of the need to take action?! 

If you want to address your lack of knowledge on the subject and work towards an engaging and efficacious workplace, please contact gill@unisonmedia.co.uk

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