Flouting stress rules will land you in court

Employers that flout the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) stress
management standards being introduced next year are likely to face prosecution
under existing health and safety law.

Elizabeth Gyngell, head of health strategy at the HSE, announced the launch
of the draft stress management standards pilot scheme. She confirmed that firms
breaching the rules may be prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

A group of about 20 public and private sector employers have started to test
the standards, that eventually all employers will have to meet to prove they
are managing stress in the workplace responsibly.

However, Gyngell, speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, reassured
employers that the draft standards are not set in stone and said they can help
shape the final version of the standards by accessing them on the HSE’s website
from next month, and giving the safety body their feedback. She also emphasised
that prosecution would only ever be a last resort.

The six-month trial will be followed by the publication of a discussion
document, in January next year, and a formal consultation period before the
first standards are introduced later in 2004.

The standards are based on the HSE’s seven causes of stress, identified in
its guide Tackling Work-Related Stress that covers areas such as workloads,
working hours and the support staff receive at work.

Steve Clark, assistant head of HR at Sheffield City Council, which is one of
the organisations piloting the standards, thinks the HSE’s draft standards are
practical and will not be too onerous for employers. "A lot of it is about
good management practice that most employers will be doing anyway," he
said.

The new standards reflect the HSE’s increasing concern over stress at work,
highlighted by figures which show the number of working days lost to stress,
anxiety or depression in 2001 was 13.5 million.

By Ben Willmott

www.hse.gov.uk

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