Should stress be a reportable injury?
According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) over 400,000 people suffer from stress-related illnesses at work each year, yet stress is not yet recognised as an occupational illness. Is it time this changed?
This has led to calls from the TUC for job-related stress to be reportable to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
According to general secretary Frances O’Grady, stress’s current omission from the list of government-recognised occupational illnesses is a problem.
“Without reporting information, the HSE lacks the information needed to identify problem workplaces. And it is harder to get an understanding of wider patterns that could help improve guidance and support for employers,” she told HR magazine.
Making stress-related illnesses reportable to the HSE is not without its challenges though.
Phil Jackson-Taft, occupational health nurse at OH One, said that diagnosis of problems relating to stress can be complex.
Speaking to HR magazine he said: “There are often multi-factorial triggers and circumstances, both personal and professional, that lead to diagnosable levels of mental health difficulty.
“The reporting of stress-related illness would be reliant on diagnosis using a medical model of mental health, which in many cases can be arguably counter-productive for the individual.”
As a rule for employers and occupational health services, Jackson-Taft recommended collecting anonymised mental health data at a localised level to help identify patterns and take action when employees are at risk of burnout or severe stress.
“Analysis of workplace stressors using the HSE’s ‘Management Standards’ can be an effective way to enact positive change as an employer,” he added.
HR and employee wellbeing:
The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act does not distinguish between mental and physical health, so work policy and practice should also treat both with the same care, Jackson-Taft said.
Five years ago, Thames Water took the initiative to start reporting work related mental illness in its employees. Any absence listed is assessed by the internal clinical occupational health team and if deemed work related it is then escalated to senior management.
Aimee Cain, occupational health and wellbeing manager at the company, said that mental health incidences are treated as any other work-related injury would be to mitigate impact on other employees.
“With this proactive approach we’ve made a significant reduction in work related illness cases, alongside our ongoing mental health strategy,” she told HR magazine.
“Reporting work related mental illness is something we feel all companies should be responsible for.”
According to O’Grady, with good practice employers can avoid perpetuating stress-related illness at work. She said the impact poor wellbeing can have on a business should not be underestimated either.
“Severe and long-term stress can massively reduce productivity, even before the point when a person is made ill and must take time off. So we’d like government and employers to see this as an opportunity to improve both the wellbeing of working people and productivity too.”
Every year in April the UK observes Stress Awareness Month. For HR magazine’s ongoing coverage of stress in the workplace and other information on mental wellbeing subscribe to our daily newsletter.