Order to reduce trust’s staff stress levels may impact OH

An
unprecedented move by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to order an NHS
trust to reduce the levels of stress faced by staff could have wide-reaching
implications for occupational health professionals.

West
Dorset General Hospitals NHS trust was issued with an improvement notice by the
HSE in August.

It
is the first time the HSE has issued such an order for stress against an
organisation, and was prompted by a complaint from a former employee.

The
trust, which is in line to achieve foundation status, has been given until 15
December to reduce the stress levels of its staff or face legal action under
the Health and Safety at Work Act, which could mean unlimited fines.

However,
the Department of Health (DoH) was at pains to emphasise the notice did not
mean the trust’s 1,100 staff were necessarily more stressed than others in the
public sector, just that its “systems of work” – particularly the fact it did
not have a work-related stress policy in place or a risk assessment of
work-related stressors – needed addressing.

“The
trust has been working with the HSE and staff representatives to understand the
reasons for workplace stress, and plan to develop a survey in conjunction with
a local university. While staff already have access to OH and counsellor
services, the trust will now also be using management standards developed by
the HSE as a way to begin to tackle work-related stress,” said the DoH.

The
trust has said it will take action, arguing it is committed to reducing stress
and will build on an existing plan to try to improve the working lives of its
staff.

By
acting so publicly and decisively, the HSE has brought concerns about stress
and, crucially, the role of OH in tackling it, firmly on to the business
agenda, argued Alyssa Armstrong, manager of corporate well-being services at
Bupa Wellness.

“By
making this statement, the HSE is showing it is serious about trying to combat
stress. Companies will pay much more attention, although it is a shame that it
takes an event like this to cause them to take notice,” she said.

“Organisations
will now start to take notice of what OH has been saying for years. There will
be much more readiness to go with what OH is saying,” she added.

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