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HSE warns of 'health and safety crisis' unless firms act on mental health

Male employee with laptop, feeling stressed by work pressures

Work-related stress and poor mental health risk becoming a health and safety crisis for workplaces across the country, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned.

While the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be fully understood, mental health issues are the number one reason given for sick days in the UK. Last year more than 17 million working days were lost as a result of stress, anxiety or depression. And in a recent survey by the charity Mind, two in five employees said their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.

Investing in supporting mental health at work is good for business and productivity -- and that applies to organisations of all sizes.

To help small businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine, HSE has launched a new campaign called Working Minds. The campaign is targeted at businesses in agriculture, construction, health, manufacturing and motor trade repairs with fewer than 20 employees -- encompassing 1.1 million small firms with approximately six million workers in total.

The advice for employers includes the '5 Rs': Reach out, Recognise, Respond, Reflect and make it Routine.

And the regulator is calling for a culture change across Britain's workplaces, to ensure psychological risks are treated the same as physical ones in health and safety risk management.

"In terms of the affect it has on workers, significant and long-term stress can limit performance and impact personal lives," explained HSE's chief executive Sarah Albon.

"No worker should suffer in silence and if we don't act now to improve workers' mental health, this could evolve into a health and safety crisis."

An employee assistance programme (EAP) can help employers address mental health issues by allowing employees to contact an independent adviser on a confidential basis to discuss any issue that is troubling them, causing stress or interfering with their job performance or attendance.

HSE pointed out that no matter where people work, employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work and to help support and sustain good mental health in the workplace.

In the survey by Mind, which included more than 40,000 workers, the main reasons cited for a decline in mental health during the pandemic included work life interfering with home life and fears about job security.

"Although many staff felt more comfortable talking to their employer about their mental health, too often, staff told us they were not offered any additional support or adjustments to their roles," said Dane Krambergar, head of Workplace Wellbeing Services at Mind.

"Investing in the mental health of your staff is not only the responsible thing to do, but it saves money in terms of reduced sickness absence and turnover and increased staff morale and productivity."

"Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, so it's vital that employers do all that they can to promote good mental health in the workplace," added Professor Neil Greenberg, chair of the Occupational Psychiatry Special Interest Group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. "Employees should be given appropriate support to help minimise the likelihood of experiencing work-related mental health problems and be supported in their treatment and recovery if they do develop or live with a mental illness."

Posted by Fidelius on November 22nd 2021

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