Stress most common health and safety problem in UK workplaces

Stress is by far the most common health and safety problem in the workplace, according to the TUC’s biennial survey of safety representatives, published today.

In the survey of more 1,800 safety reps, nearly two-thirds (62%) said that stress is one of the top five problems faced by the workforces they represent, while more than a quarter (27%) picked out stress as the hazard at work that most concerns them.

Stress is more often found in the public than in the private sector, the survey shows, with 68% of public sector union reps saying it is a problem, compared with 54% in the private sector.

Stress is more prevalent in larger workplaces and is most common in London – with 70% of reps in the capital citing it as an issue – than in any other part of the UK.

The survey follows separate research released earlier this week by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which revealed that stress was the most common cause of long-term sickness absence.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary said: “Stress can be caused by heavy workloads, cuts in staffing, long hours and bullying.

“The economic crisis and redundancies have created more anxiety about job security, and as the spending cuts begin to bite and even more jobs start to go, stress at work is bound to increase.

“Unions and employers must work together to combat stress at work as it can have a devastating impact on workers and a damaging cost on businesses.”

Other key findings in the 2010 survey

  • Bullying and harassment is this year’s second most common health and safety concern. More than one-third of reps (37%) list it as a top five concern in the workplace – almost double the proportion (20%) that cited bullying as an issue in 2008.
  • Back strains constitute the third most frequently mentioned hazard, with one-third (33%) of reps saying this was a top five concern for their workplaces, a slight increase on the 31% figure in 2008.
  • Slips, trips and falls are collectively the fourth most common hazard identified, with 32% of reps regarding them as a top five cause for concern. They were placed the same in 2008 (33%).
  • Overwork is listed as a separate issue to stress for the first time in the survey, and it is the fifth most likely hazard to be identified as a major concern with nearly three in 10 (29%) safety reps listing it as one of their top five issues.
  • Another change in the findings of this year’s survey is that display screen equipment and repetitive strain injuries present a lower level of concern now than in 2008 – both were reported by 28% of reps now compared to 41% and 40% respectively in 2008.
  • There are also quite dramatic falls in the proportion of safety reps saying that psychosocial hazards like working alone (down from 30% to 21%) and violence and threats (down from 26% to 18%) were major hazards.

You can view a model policy on stress at work on XpertHR.

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