Did you know that stress is now the largest source of work-related ill health accounting for 44% of all cases? A total of 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress last year, which resulted in 15.4 million working days lost.
That figure is staggering, particularly when by comparison, only 6.6 million working days were lost due to musculoskeletal disorders and 3.9 million working days were lost to due workplace injuries. Think about how much your employer spends in preventing physical ill health and injury (high visibility clothing, appropriate footwear, gloves etc.) and now think about how much they spend, in comparison, on preventing work-related stress.
Despite work-related stress being one of the great public health challenges of our time, it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health issues. More needs to be done to promote wellbeing in the workplace, and with April being stress awareness month, it is a perfect opportunity to discuss how.
There are lots of guides and useful websites on how to reduce work-related stress, but as lawyers representing clients who have suffered with their mental health as a result of work-related stress, whether that be through being bullied or overworked, we are able to share our observations based upon real-life examples.
What is stress?
The HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.
A small amount of stress can be a positive thing; indeed some people thrive on it, but if stress manifests itself into something more clinical such as a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or depression, the consequences can be devastating.
What can be done?
The myriad of options available are beyond the scope of this article, and therefore I am going to suggest only two. One for employees and one for employers, which would make a significant difference in promoting wellbeing in the workplace.
If you feel that you are suffering from work related stress, take our one-minute survey to see if you can make a claim against your employer.Take stress claim survey
You must tell your manager or HR if you feel you are becoming ill through work-related stress; please do not suffer in silence.
With the exception of certain harassment cases, the law says that in order for the employer’s duty of care to prevent psychiatric harm to its employees, such harm needs to be foreseeable. Speaking up, therefore has two benefits:
Firstly and most importantly, it will give the employer an opportunity to do something positive to alleviate the employees stress to prevent illness.
Secondly, it puts the employer on notice of the decline in the employee’s health to engage its duty of care to prevent such illness. If the employer then breaches that duty of care and illness flows as a result, a claim for compensation may be viable.
The law requires every employer to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of its employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work.
Despite this being written into statute since 1999, more often than not, employers are too reactionary when it comes to stress and wellbeing, and more needs to be done to prevent people becoming ill in the first place.
I would encourage all employers to make use of the excellent resources on the HSE website when it comes to identifying and managing the risks of stress to help comply with their legal obligations. All roles should be risk assessed but particularly so in the following circumstances:
When an employee reports to you that their health is suffering due to their workload or the type of work they are doing; and when an employee reports another employee is bullying them.
Once the cause of stress has been identified, the employer should then take all reasonably practicable measures to alleviate the same.
Failure to accept work-related stress as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time will come at a high price. Employers will suffer from both lost productivity, and otherwise avoidable litigation whilst employees will arguably bear the greatest price; with their mental health. We all have a part to play, and the time for action is now.
Please note that these guides are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. You can contact one of our expert consultant lawyers using the form below.
David is an occupational stress and psychiatric injury specialist.
David is one of the few specialists in the country whose practice is solely made up of work related stress claims. His expertise covers:
- Stress at work claims
- Bullying & harassment claims
- Violence at work claims
- Sexual harassment