Stress - preventative action

This section outlines the legal context for and the method of carrying out a stress risk assessment.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a safe place of work, safe systems of work, and information and training.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health and safety risks at work to be carried out this includes the risk of stress-related ill health.

The Equality Act 2010 consolidates, harmonises and expands on existing discrimination law. It imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to their working practices and/or premises to accommodate the needs of disabled people. The Act gives rights to people who have or have had a disability which makes it difficult for them to carry out day-to-day activities. The disability could be physical, sensory or mental. It must also be substantial and have a long-term effect, ie it must last or be expected to last for at least 12 months. Find out more by visiting the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

More relevant legislation

The Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations place a weekly maximum on working hours. Adult workers cant be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average. This is typically averaged over a 17-week period. Certain occupations aren’t covered, and if you’re 18 or over and wish to work more than 48 hours a week, you can choose to opt out of the 48-hour limit. This must be voluntary and be done in writing. Find out more on the Directgov.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Protection from Harassment Act makes it a criminal offence to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of a person.

Employment Rights Act

The Employment Rights Act 1996 and Employment Act 2002 set out many of the statutory rights that most employees can get when they work, including unfair dismissal, reasonable notice before dismissal, time-off rights for parenting, redundancy and the right to request flexible working time.

Preventive action

The HSE Management Standards cover six key areas of work design which, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and wellbeing, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. In other words, the six Management Standards cover the primary sources of stress at work:

  • demands - this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • control - how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • support - this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • relationships - this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • role - whether people understand their role in the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • change - how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

The HSE management standards approach can be used to help organisations:

  • identify the main risk factors for work-related stress
  • focus on the underlying causes and their prevention
  • provide a yardstick by which you can gauge your performance in tackling the key causes of stress

For more information, see the HSE Management Standards webpages.

Stress risk assessment

An overview of the HSE Management Standards approach for assessing and reducing the risks of work-related stress is available from the HSE.

There’s more detailed information and support for each step of a risk assessment process on the HSE website. The recommended steps are:

What to do before you start, including obtaining management and employee commitment

The HSE website also provides the following tools and information:

Other sources of stress risk assessment information

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has a factsheet outlining a risk assessment process and another providing examples of interventions implemented in a number of European countries. The TUC website has a step-by-step PowerPoint guide with notes on how to assess the risks of stress.

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