Stress standards to put pressure on employers

Employers will have to meet challenging new standards on stress being
introduced before the end of the year.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is to introduce work-related stress
audits in its routine health and safety inspections by the end of 2003, and
will ultimately have the power to fine organisations that fail to introduce
minimum standards.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Umist,
said HR must play a pivotal role if employers are to meet the standards that
will cover areas such as working hours, workloads, and management style.

"Many sources of workplace stress are an HR problem. Things like
bullying at work, long hours culture, making redundancies and increasing
workloads on those left behind, glass and ethnic ceilings are all issues which
HR should be helping to address," he said.

To comply, employers must carry out a risk assessment that identifies the
stress hazards, and who might be harmed and how. They must then develop and
follow through an action plan.

The new standards reflect the HSE’s increasing concern about stress at work,
highlighted by its latest figures revealing that the number of days taken off
due to stress increased to 13.5 million in 2001, from 6.5 million in 1996.

The HSE is due to run a pilot project this spring before introducing the
standards following a final consultation exercise with industry bodies,
including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

It will also be able to investigate specific complaints about stress in the
workplace raised by unions or individuals, warned Pamela Carr, occupational
health specialist for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The CIPD’s lead adviser on public policy, Diane Sinclair, said HR will have
a huge part to play in helping employers comply with the standards. "The
bulk of factors likely to be taken into account will be concerned with people
management and people development issues," she said.

Martin Hinchcliffe, HR director at Welcome Break, said: "I welcome
these new standards as encouraging best practice."

By Ben Willmott

Guides to stress management policy:

HR Factfile

The drivers of workplace stress

– Poorly designed/managed workload and scheduling

– Poorly designed/managed physical environment

– Lack of skill discretion/lack of decision authority

– Lack of appropriate support

– Poor management procedures for combating bullying/harassment

Source: HSE

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