HSE clarification of criteria for investigation of work-related stress (WRS) concerns

From the UK Health and Safety Executive

HSE has clarified existing criteria for the investigation of WRS concerns to remove potential confusion. As awareness of WRS and mental ill health increases, the amount of concerns raised with HSE also increases. Many of these are not appropriate for HSE or Local Authorities (LAs). Responding to these has resource implications and it is hoped by making it clearer when to approach HSE, we can limit that impact.

You will be aware that over 15 million working days were lost last year because of stress at work. According to the LFS survey almost 600,000 people experienced stress, anxiety or depression caused or aggravated by their work; they were responsible for 57% of all working days lost to ill health. This represents a significant cost to employers, employees and the GB economy. 

All Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from work related stress by doing a risk assessment and acting to tackle or remove any identified risks.

HSE will consider investigating concerns about work-related stress where:

  • There is evidence that a number of staff are currently experiencing work-related stress or stress-related ill health, but
  • HSE will not normally investigate concerns solely related to individual cases of bullying or harassment, but may consider this if there is evidence of a wider organisational failing, and
  • HSE would expect concerns about work-related stress to have been raised already with the employer, and for the employer to have been given sufficient time to respond accordingly.

Any HSE intervention will focus on the organisational arrangements in place and will not address individual circumstances.

HSE is always obliged to make decisions on any investigations in the light of other reactive priorities, so this guidance should not be read as a guarantee of how HSE will respond to any specific concern.

Please be aware that local authorities apply the same investigation criteria, given that they enforce the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act alongside HSE.

The review of criteria compliments our health priority plans and has allowed us to refine our approach to such cases and produce more relevant guidance.

HSE has developed various free tools, available on its website. These include the Management Standards approach to work related stress. This approach has been supplemented by a talking toolkit which encourages employers to start a conversation (and risk assessment process) with employees. These tools can be used as part of the risk assessment process and contain suggestions for tackling any identified risks.


Marcus Boocock
Communications Officer +44 (0)116 257 3139
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