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UK firms not compliant with stress health and safety law

Workplace mental health experts have warned that many UK companies are not doing enough to protect employees from work-related stress.

The law requires employers to protect employees from stress at work by doing a written risk assessment for stress and acting on it. Businesses with fewer than five employees are not legally required to write their risk assessment down.

However, research by Mente has found that many businesses do not realise that they have an obligation to complete a stress risk assessment. Others believe that managing workplace stress is not a priority, it says.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently published the criteria that it requires to begin an investigation into claims of work-related stress. If a complaint is made that meets their criteria, employers could receive a health and safety inspection. If any non-compliance is found, they could face legal action.

HSE could also make random spot-checks on workplaces, to check for compliance on stress law. An inspection could involve checking that a stress risk assessment has been completed and is up to date, assessing workplace culture and practices, and monitoring health and sickness data.

Mel Joseph, founder and director of Mente, said: “For a long time, organisations have seen mental health as secondary to physical health, in terms of safety and risk. But stress isn’t a mysterious and invisible danger to your business. It is a manageable safety hazard that you can take direct and effective actions towards to remain compliant.”

Mente has launched a free stress risk assessment tool that helps managers to come up with practical stress management actions and covers all of the HSE’s management standards.

Another new report on stress in the workplace by Dolan Contractor Group has found that businesses risk losing 32% of their top talent because of stress. Its research, based on a poll of employees in 140 companies, found that one in eight employees has taken time off work for stress in the past year. When asked how employees would combat excessive stress at work, 32% of respondents said they would leave the company while 15% said they have taken unpaid leave in order to combat stress.

The survey found that the biggest causes of stress in UK workplaces are:

  • Long working hours (41%);
  • Too much pressure on deadlines or from clients (32%);
  • Low pay and no chance to build savings (29%);
  • Inflexible working hours (28%);
  • No chance of progression (16%).

The study also examined the effects of stress on sole traders. It found that 30% of contractor and freelancer workers have taken leave from work to combat excessive stress. Self-employed workers are more likely to keep going and “hope it gets better”, with 17% of freelancers agreeing with this compared to just 6% of employees.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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