The Health and Safety Executive will act in the next two months to stem the tide of stress which is wrecking the health of British workers, it has confirmed.
After months of debate and speculation, the HSE stated last week that action will be taken as a result of new research showing that stress is damaging the physical and mental health of 5 million employees.
This could take the form of guidance, a semi-binding code of practice or full legislation, although legislation is the least likely option.
What is certain is that employers will be made to take action.
Two reports released by the HSE last week confirm stress is a serious problem and link poor work design, leading to stress, with health problems such as psychiatric disorders, physical illness and dependence on alcohol.
“We already knew from smaller studies that stress was probably our second biggest occupational health problem, after back pain, but this research puts that beyond doubt,” said Elizabeth Gyngell, senior policy manager at the HSE’s health directorate.
“What is more, we can now be sure that how employers design jobs affects the mental and physical health of their employees. It also affects whether employees take sick leave.
“The work that has gone into these reports will assist us in our work of protecting the health and competitiveness of Britain’s workforce.”
The HSE would not say which course of action it will be taking, but it has indicated in the past that a code of practice, with the same legal standing as the Highway Code, would be favoured.
Karen Bell, president of the Association of Health Service HR Managers and chief executive at Huntingdonshire Primary Care Group, said this would provide detailed guidance and force employers to act as tribunals will take into account whether it had been followed.
Alison Cobb, policy officer at Mind, said employers need explicit instructions on what to do.