HSE extends spot checks to stress
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has the power to enter any business premises in the UK to check employees are working safely. The HSE carries out thousands of unannounced inspections every year which often result in fines or enforcement actions.
In October the HSE announced they were extending the scope of their existing programme of spot checks to include work related stress.
HSE spot checks are intended to look at how you keep your workers, and anyone who may be affected by your work, healthy and safe. Traditionally the inspections have been focussed on risks arising from machinery or other equipment and any possible health risks in workplace.
Extending the spot checks to cover stress means every employer in the UK now needs to have taken steps to assess and mitigate
psychological health risks.
Work related stress and the law
The Health & Safety at Work Act stipulates that all employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. Employers also have a legal duty to assess the risks to employees from work related stress and mental health issues.
In addition the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 stipulates that UK employers are required to carry out an assessment of the health and safety risks to which their employees are exposed whilst they are at work. This includes the requirement to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and to take measures to control the
The HSE defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. There are six defined categories of stress that the HSE expect employers to risk assess.
As a minimum, the HSE will expect every business to have conducted a risk assessment and they will assess:
- Whether a risk assessment for WRS has been done
- Whether it applies across the organisation
- Whether employees were consulted or involved
How to conduct a risk assessment
Fortunately conducting a stress risk assessment is not a complicated process. The HSE even provide a free
template for any employer to use. Examples covering office-based businesses, retail, catering, transport and manufacturing businesses are also provided.
If you employ more than five people, the law says you must have a written record of a stress risk assessment. You don’t have to use the HSE template and your business will be legally compliant as long as you record:
- Who might be harmed and how
- What steps you’re taking to control the risks
- What actions you may still need to take to control the risks
- Who needs to carry out the actions
- When the action needs to be completed
If you employ less then five people the law says you must still conduct a risk assessment but you do not have to keep a written record.
What support is available?
Whilst conducting a stress risk assessment may be fairly straight forward, preventing stress can be tricky and managing stress can sometimes be very complicated.
“An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure” may be an old saying, but it is definitely applicable to managing psychological risks in businesses.
There are a myriad of different sources of support available; EAPs, specialist training providers, health assessment providers, medical insurers, income protection providers and innumerable apps, leaflets, books and websites.
The HSE website has a huge list of free support resources too, as well as links to support for a huge range of psychological health
concerns (stress, anxiety, counselling, addiction, depression, bullying & harassment, 24-hour connectivity, PTSD, presenteeism and resilience).
Tips for managing people with stress
It can be difficult to manage employees who present with work related stress. However, these tips for HR managers may be worth
- Stress is a self-limiting illness and will generally get better, even without medical support, although it can
take years to resolve without treatment
- Early intervention pays dividends – the sooner you act to help, the less severe the impact on your
employee and your business is likely to be
- Counselling, chemicals (mood stabilisers) and being at work are all proven to help – work adds structure and routine to people’s lives and is essential to help support a lasting recovery
- Recovery is not always linear – there will be good days and bad days along the path to better health
- Psychological ill health can potentially be a disability and covered by the Equality Act – adjustments to the workplace
or role may need to be considered before considering capability
- Any occupational health specialist will always be able to offer advice and support to help you manage stress and any other health risks
Following a pause in spot checks during COVID restrictions, the HSE are now also working with Local Authorities and trained and approved partners to deliver the spot check calls and visits, to ensure they can reach as many workplaces as possible nationally.
Conducting a stress risk assessment is the minimum that the HSE expect to demonstrate compliance with the law to avoid contravention notices and fines.
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