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Work-related stress and poor mental health risk becoming a health and safety crisis for Britain’s workplaces, the regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned.
While the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be finally understood, mental health issues are the number one reason given for sick days in the UK, the HSE says. Last year more than 17 million working days were lost as a result of stress, anxiety, or depression. A recent survey by the charity Mind suggests that two in five employees’ mental health had worsened during the pandemic. Hence the HSE’s new campaign, ‘Working Minds’, launched at its Health and Work Conference. The aim; to help businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine.
While ‘Working Minds’ is targeting six million workers in small businesses, HSE is calling for a culture change across workplaces, to ensure psychological risks are treated the same as physical ones in health and safety risk management.
HSE’s chief executive Sarah Albon said: “Work-related stress and poor mental health should be treated with the same significance as risks of poor physical health and injury. In terms of the affect it has on workers, significant and long-term stress can limit performance and impact personal lives. 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.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need to protect the health of employees who have faced unprecedented challenges; the Government is committed to building back better and we want to make sure good mental health is central to this.”
HSE is reminding business that no matter where people work, employers have a legal duty to assess the risks in the workplace, not just in terms of potential hazards and physical safety. They should also promote good working practices. It says this promotes an open environment where employees can share their concerns and discuss options to ease pressures.
Sarah Albon added: “Our campaign is focused on giving employers a clear reminder of their duties while championing reducing work-related stress and promoting good mental health at work.”
Meanwhile the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work (APPG) after its Inquiry this year into the use of Artificial Intelligence and Surveillance at Work says that monitoring of workers and setting performance targets through algorithms is damaging employees’ mental health and needs to be controlled by new law.