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Revealed: How health & safety and employee stress is related

For many of us, the very mention of health & safety conjures up thoughts of hi vis vests, hard hats, manual handling courses, and warning signs. But there’s a whole other side to health & safety.

Stress Awareness Month underscores the critical importance of addressing workplace stress and promoting employee wellbeing.

Many employers don’t necessarily see the link between stress management and health & safety—with health & safety usually being seen to deal with the physical aspects of health. For many of us, the very mention of health & safety conjures up thoughts of hi vis vests, hard hats, manual handling courses, and warning signs. But there’s a whole other side to health & safety. And that’s the side that’s focused on mental wellbeing.

1.8 million workers were thought to have suffered from work-related ill-health in the year 2022/23. Around half of those workers were suffering from work-related stress, anxiety, or depression, emphasising what a detrimental impact it can have on the workforce.

Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR:  “Let’s remember that not all stress is bad: “good stress” can motivate and energise, enhancing performance and productivity. However, too much “bad stress” and over a prolonged period can cause serious issues for your employees and for your business.

“A staggering eight in 10 UK employees say they commonly experience work-related stress. Plus, last year saw sick day rates hit its highest level in a decade, so this is something every employer will need to address at some point.

“In fact, stress is responsible for even more absences as physical issues… According to HSE, 2023 saw 35.2 million lost working days due to ill health and non-fatal workplace injury, costing £20.7 billion to the UK economy. Of those days, a substantial 17.1 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety, or depression, whilst 6.6 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders and 3.7 million to non-fatal workplace injuries.

“Of course, workplace culture plays a large part in stress—or lack of—in the workplace.  But all organisations need to have the framework in place to ensure that they can adequately manage and minimise it. It can be hard to know where to start, but having a stress at work policy in place that outlines the support available to employees is a great place to start.

“Having the correct risk assessments and training provisions in place to protect their employee’s mental health is essential. After all, there’d be no question about having them in place for physical activities like working at height, or manual handling.

“Additionally, the provision of e-learning courses can help managers spot those all-important signs of stress, so that measures can be implemented to prevent burnout occurring. All of this, backed up by an employee assistance programme, can better provide employees with the tools they need to keep stress levels down.

“Finally, let’s turn our attention to the legislation that makes it a legal requirement: under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which incidentally turns 50 this year, all employers have an obligation to look after the welfare of employees—calling out an employer’s legal duty to reduce stress in the workplace as far as reasonably practical.”

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