Workplace stress cannot be ignored

Employers without systems in place to tackle employee stress are breaking the law, delegates at a conference heard last week.

Dr Stuart Bristow of the Health and Safety Commission warned delegates, “You do not have the option of not managing stress. The law requires you to assess the risk to the mental health of employees and take steps to reduce the risks as far as reasonably possible.”

But Dr Bristow admitted the commission is facing huge problems in drawing up codes of practice because of a lack of scientific information on which to base enforceable standards. It has agreed to draw up a set of standards in consultation with experts over the next three years with the first coming out by 2003. If the commission succeeds it will be a first for the UK.

No other body worldwide has been able to define standards in stress management, although work is going on in Scandinavia and the US, Dr Bristow said, at a stress at work conference run by employment analysis company IRS last week.

He added, “This is ground-breaking stuff. We want the standards to be short, able to be measured and put on a sound technical basis in a form people can use.”

He admitted current guidance was “not very good” and hinted that sector-specific stress guidance might be produced in the future.

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