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Health and Safety and work-related stress


A couple of months ago, the World Day for Safety and Health made its theme ‘Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge’. The aim was to raise awareness of the effects of work-related stress and the damage it can do.


We have already covered in earlier articles the consequences of stress, depression and anxiety at work. Today, we look at what employers need to do in order to mitigate the effects and help affected employees.


Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work. Included within that duty is the minimisation of stress-related injury or illness.


There are three levels within an organisation who have specific responsibilities; directors, HR/H&S managers and line managers.


Directors need to take into account:

  • factors suggesting a problem with stress-related illness in the business; these might include high absenteeism, unusual levels of staff turnover, performance issues or conflict between employees (which can often be flagged up by disciplinary reports).

  • the organisation’s health and safety policy, ensuring that it covers the issue of stress in the workplace and has, if required, a stress management strategy including avenues by which employees can bring stress-related issues to the attention of management.

  • the use of effective risk assessments including their regular monitoring; any recommendations that are thrown up by them should be fully implemented.

  • stress-related risks when organisational change is planned and effected.


The role of HR and H&S managers will vary depending on the way that the organisation is set up. However, certain responsibilities are common to all situations and managers should:

  • ensure that they are up to date with the current best practice regarding occupational stress.

  • carry out risk assessments for stress connected to jobs and processes, and review those risk assessments regularly.

  • uncover situations that mean a risk assessment may need to be updated, such as direct evidence of stress in an employee or large scale reorganisation that will directly affect employees’ workloads.

  • make sure employees are aware of the risks and symptoms of stress-related illnesses and the obligations that the law lays down about informing managers of risks in the workplace.

  • pass on any information they may have obtained regarding risks to health at work caused by stress.

  • take into account stress when assessing individual employees who have been on long-term or frequent sick leave.

  • establish the evidence that will be needed if an assessment on the disability status of an employee is considered necessary; this will also require a determination on whether the employee is being less favourably treated and an assessment of the reasonable adjustments that can be made.

  • make senior management aware of any concerns whilst ensuring that confidentiality is maintained.


The line manager, being on the frontline, so to speak, plays an important part in helping employees to deal with the problems that can arise from occupational stress.


Line managers may wish to take into consideration:

  • the part that stress may play in frequent or long-term absenteeism for individual employees.

  • how potential sources of stress can be monitored and addressed.establish the evidence that will be needed if an assessment on the disability status of an employee is considered necessary; this will also require a determination on whether the employee is being less favourably treated and an assessment of the reasonable adjustments that can be made.

  • make senior management aware of any concerns whilst ensuring that confidentiality is maintained.


Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and of others who may be affected by their actions.


To this end, they should:

  • let their employer know if they feel that pressure may be increasing the risk of ill-health for them or other employees

  • put forward any suggestions they have regarding the ways that work can be re-organised to reduce stress

  • advise their employer if they have a medical condition that is (or appears to be) long-term and may affect their ability to carry out day to day tasks

  • examine the possibility of reasonable adjustments being made that can help them perform their job.

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