Stress guidelines ignored by employers

2004

New guidelines on work-related stress in the UK become law later this year but over half of employers have never even heard of them.

The new Management Standards drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are intended to reduce stress levels in UK workplaces. When they start to be enforced, a certain percentage of a company’s staff will have to agree that their employer has met certain standards or they will fail an assessment.

But according to a study by consultants Croner, over half (55 per cent) of organisations said that they had no idea that the HSE guidelines even existed, while of those that were aware of them, a quarter said they had taken no action to put them into practice.

Almost eight out of ten were also failing to HSE advice on combating stress in the workplace.

The HSE has identified six sources of stress that will come under the regulatory microscope: demands of the job, control over how to work, support from colleagues and management, working relationships, clarity of role and organisational change.

According to the new Management Standards, employers must take responsibility for stress caused by work and the working environment and adopt an attitude of 'prevention rather than cure'.

Katherine Hunter, health and safety expert at Croner, said that under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers must ensure staff are not made ill by their work.

"However, our survey suggests that companies are not doing enough to manage the key ‘stressors’ identified by the HSE,” she warned.

"Misconceptions about stress need to be challenged to make people aware that it is not a weakness on behalf of the employee, but a serious occupational health condition.

"Stress is costing UK business billions each year in lost working days, not to mention the potential costs of compensation claims. It is in every employer's best interest to understand stress, and manage and monitor both working practices and the work environment,” she said.