Anytime a Health and Safety Enforcement Officer (HSE) or the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) from a local council visit, they will likely ask two questions regarding your documentation:
• Can I see a copy of your Employer’s Liability Compulsory Insurance (if not displayed)?
• Can I see some or all your company’s risk assessments?
Employers are legally required to conduct them and if you have five or more employees, you are required to record it. These should:
o Cover ALL of the activities / tasks conducted by employees / workers
o Cover any machinery and other equipment used
o Demonstrate how the Health and Safety of employees (and others who can be affected by their activities), are being managed.
It has become an ever increasingly regular request by inspectors that they see how mental health / stress is being managed, because not only do employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by conducting a risk assessment, but this risk assessment must demonstrate, if a hazard has been recognised what, if anything, is being done to raise awareness of the hazard and to keep people safe.
HSE defines stress as…
“the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure(s) or other types of demand placed upon them.”
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires all employers to take measures to control risk associated with hazard and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities, as with any other hazard, such as noise, dusts, or manual handling activities.
Did you know that:
• We all have mental health – it is whether it is regarded as being in good or ill health that is the question.
• Mental ill health affects approximately one in four people in the UK.
• Stress, depression, and anxiety are now recognised as the biggest reason for absences in the workplace.
• The number of days taken off work with mental health problems keeps increasing year on year.
• Surveys have demonstrated that it is still unfortunately the case that more workers than not feel unable to approach their managers, due to a fear of looking weak.
- An example of where an employee could feel stressed would be where they feel they do not have the skill or time to meet a deadline.
How do you manage stress?
To manage this, employers should ensure that they match their demands to an employees’ skillset and allow sufficient time to complete the task. If activities are planned, training is provided and support is available, the pressure, and the stress levels that can accompany them, can be reduced if not removed.
From an employer’s perspective it is essential to understand how best to manage stressful conditions within the workplace and how best to support employees. Consideration needs to be given to:
• Who may feel stressed and overloaded due to their work or working conditions? – this is work related stress.
• Anyone in the workforce that has been diagnosed with mental ill health. Whether this has been caused at work or not the effects can still affect their safety and wellbeing, whilst they are at work.
To help determine the answer to the first question, consideration needs to be given to the company’s activities and its employees, considering the Management Standards, which are the six things that HSE expects employers to include into their risk assessment for work related stress. These are:
• Demands: Are any employees struggling to cope with the demands of their job?
• Control: Do any employees feel they are unable to have a say about the way they do their work?
• Support: Do any employees feel that they do not receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors?
• Relationships: Have any employees been subjected to or are being subjected to any unacceptable behaviours, e.g., bullying at work?
• Role: Do all employees fully understand their role and responsibilities and / or are any employee of the opinion they lack appropriate training?
• Change: Do any employees feel that the organisation is not engaging with them adequately when undergoing organisational changes?
If the risk assessment asks these questions, employers should be able to identify the main risk factors as they pertain to the workplace, which will then allow them to focus on the root causes.
Employers will then have to decide on the precautions needing to be in place to manage those risks. If determined precautions can be seen to be demonstrably practiced, then it will likely, when considering the whole process (policy, risk assessment, procedures (SSoW), training, monitoring), be deemed that you are doing what is required to manage the risk.
Further to that, the review process should allow employers to gauge their progress and decide if anything further needs to be done to reduce the risk, if the risk is being managed affectively or even if new risks have arisen due to changes in the workplace or the employees within it (hybrid working – working at home, dealing with COVID 19, coping with bereavement).
Mental health problems in the workplace, if not managed effectively, can lead to
• A high turnover in staff.
• Presenteeism – the act of being present at work whilst sick.
• Leaveism – working whilst on holiday.
• Low productivity.
Recommendations for employers
• Create a business case which demonstrates the positive business reasons for supporting staff with mental ill health. This allows for a budget to be put in place as well as a strategy to ensure that all managers and supervisors understand issues such as conflict management, presenteeism, leaveism, employee engagement and staff turnover, as well as the relevant legislation and any industry guidance.
• Make sure policies, procedures and risk assessment(s) are in place and reviewed as required so that they are kept up to date.
• Ensure provision of the best possible working environment and engage with the workforce through the consultative process, offering support to employees by promoting wellbeing.
• Tackle the causes of mental ill health by making sure workplace stressors are identified.
• Monitor the workplace to notice any early signs of mental ill-health so that early interventions can be made to stop problems escalating.
• Consider adding training for mental health first aid to the companies first aid toolbox, as trained mental health first aiders can spot signs / symptoms and offer advice and support but note a word of caution: mental health first aiders should not be diagnosing or acting in the stead of medical professionals but rather signposting to enable professional advice to be given. They should also be operating “in-confidence;” so that the trust of employees is not broken and mental health first aiders in themselves do not become a part of the problem and unapproachable.
• Encourage openness and talk to employees in a supportive way.
• Provide a confidential way to come forward, to allow employees to be honest about their feelings.
• If appropriate, consider if an ethics or whistleblowing helpline should be set up to ensure that unacceptable behaviour can be reported / investigated at an early stage.
• If possible, draw up a document that identifies mental ill health triggers and reasonable adjustments.
• Promote rehabilitation and understand the return-to-work process from fit notes to reasonable adjustments and communicate this to the relevant people, thereby ensuring a process is in place for those returning to work, which ensures they receive the best possible integration and support.
If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety related issue do not hesitate to contact your health & safety consultant or the main office for advice / assistance.