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Workplace hazard or personal risk: Should Stress be made RIDDOR reportable?

We take a closer look at stress in the workplace: should the increased effectiveness of risk assessments make it a reportable illness?

Stress is estimated to cost the UK economy around £28 billion per year, with 23.3 million sick days being taken. Nearly half of the 1.8 million workers who last year reported struggling with any occupation-related ill health, put it down to stress, anxiety and depression.

Health issues caused by stress:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Depressed immune system
  • Circulatory conditions – high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Leading factor in workplace near-misses and incidents

While employers do have a duty of care to support the mental health of their workforce (ACAS) it is almost impossible for the HSE to police and spot problem workplaces due to the lack of reporting, concrete statistics and measurables currently in place.

Why is stress not a reportable event?

The main difficulty is that stress, and associated mental illness, is currently not classified as a RIDDOR reportable event; for an accident to be reported it should be something which causes physical injury. The thinking behind this is that stress-related conditions usually result from a prolonged period of pressure, often with many contributing factors, rather than just one distinct event. As such, it is a wide and arguable grey area between occupational and personal causes: After all, we are all different. HSE define stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. It’s important to note that work-related stress is more about the reaction to pressure, not about the pressure itself.

As a result, HSE can only take action if it is apparent that multiple staff are suffering.

To protect workers from most hazards, the HSE use a range of measurables, including reporting from RIDDOR. This way they can prove whether a business is compliant with regulations created to adequately prevent harm coming to people while they carry out their jobs. But compliance is hard to prove when the illness cannot be clearly linked back to business negligence, as mental health problems are more likely to be a result of cumulative issues and triggers, both at home and at work.

What are HSE doing?

As a result of the huge cost to business and the magnitude of the numbers involved, HSE have made management of stress a large part of their strategy for the next 10 years.

This includes bolstering involvement in stress prevention with schemes such as “Working Minds” and clear Management Standards: instructions as to how to risk assess for stress within the workplace, allowing businesses to identify the main risk factors, focus on underlying causes and gauge their own performance. The HSE’s aim is to look at how organisations either prevent emotional hazards or recognise their causes early, so mitigations can be put in place. Taking preventative action means businesses will be able to demonstrate good practice, implementing mechanisms at the coping stage, not waiting for people to struggle.

The benefits of tackling stress early are not only a boost to company CSR image:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased engagement
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Improved accident prevention

Is the HSE response enough?

Some might suggest that making stress a RIDDOR reportable event would allow the HSE to spot problem organisations more easily, and to analyse and take enforcement action if they have inadequate preventative measures in place. Current policy, procedure and process are not necessarily the most effective in preventing stress at work.

But as well as being difficult to allocate absolute blame, making stress reportable would result in diagnosis being treated as a conventional medical issue, with interventions that could actually prove seriously detrimental to mental health conditions.

Stress can still be discussed with HSE and concerns raised can still result in an investigation. By recommending best practice such as risk assessments, anonymised surveys and making preventative measures mandatory for all businesses, HSE are able to light the way and ensure that employers are aware of their responsibilities in the early prevention of stress.

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