Workplace Wellbeing and Health and Safety At Work

The Health and Safety at Work Act was established in 1974 – a mere 50 years ago.  While we often associate health and safety with physical “safety” the Act recognised that employee “health” is equally important. Most of us will…

Lee Craig author of blog about workplace wellbeing and health and safety

Blog18th Mar 2024

By Lee Craig

The Health and Safety at Work Act was established in 1974 – a mere 50 years ago.  While we often associate health and safety with physical “safety” the Act recognised that employee “health” is equally important.

Most of us will work in occupations at some time or another that will expose us to health hazards, be that physical stress and strain, exposures to chemicals, noise, dusts, vibration, violence/aggressive behaviours, infection, stress etc.  It’s easy to assume that only employees who carry out high risk work are exposed to health hazards but anyone in any occupation can be affected.

As employers we have a duty under health and safety law to protect workers from the adverse health effects of the work that they do – this is embedded in the principles of risk assessment and risk management.

The most recent set of UK statistics for work related ill health prove that more needs to be done in this area:

  • 1.8 million workers suffering from work related ill health in 2022/23 (new cases and long-stranding)
  • 900,000 workers suffering from work related stress, depression, or anxiety (accounting for 49% of the total cases and the main cause of work-related ill health).
  • 12,000 lung disease deaths per annum linked to past exposures at work (chemicals and dusts)
  • 500,000 workers suffering from work related musculoskeletal disorders (accounting for 24% of the total cases)
  • £13.1 billion annual cost of new cases of work-related ill health.

Work related stress, depression, and anxiety account for almost half of all work-related ill health and 54% of the working days lost in the UK, and post pandemic the trend is rising. It is essential for UK business to understand the causes of stress and ensure that their organisational culture, policies, and procedures address these.

The main causes of work-related stress are cited as:

  • Workload pressure including tight deadlines and too much responsibility.
  • Lack of managerial support
  • Violence and bullying
  • Organisational changes at work and role uncertainty

And it’s important to understand that many employees will experience stress in their personal lives, that then carries over into their working lives and affects their ability to cope with their job and to work safely.  Understanding and supporting employees when they are experiencing personal challenges can be as important as taking steps to minimise the work related aspects.

Proactively taking steps to prevent stress occurring is preferential to reactively having to deal with both the causes of stress and the consequences.  Given the current rates of work-related stress etc. many employers will find themselves on the back foot and reactively trying to address issues that have become embedded in the culture, systems, processes and people.

The good news is that there are tools out there to support the management of stress.   Working with HR professionals many of the existing HR policies and procedures can provide valuable information to help identify the extent of the problem, e.g. absence statistics, causes of discipline and grievance procedures, staff retention data, exit interview data; employee surveys etc.

Staff surveys and workshops can help to drill into the finer detail of the day-to-day issues and demands that wear people down, cause frustration and create conflict between staff and management.

HR and H&S policies and procedure can provide some of the solutions and may need to be refreshed and refocussed to ensure they remain effective, e.g. return to work, flexible working arrangements, dignity at work, stress at work, employee health programmes; risk assessment; job evaluation etc.

The Health and Safety Executive Management Standards represent a set of conditions that if present:

  • demonstrate good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach
  • allow assessment of the current situation using pre-existing data, surveys, and other techniques
  • promote active discussion and working in partnership with employees and their representatives, to help decide on practical improvements that can be made
  • help simplify risk assessment for work-related stress by:
    • identifying the main risk factors
    • helping employers focus on the underlying causes and their prevention
    • providing a yardstick by which organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress

The management standards cover six key areas of work design that are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates:

  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

Employee wellbeing is one of the areas where HR and H&S can work in partnership to ensure that the inherent health hazards associated with work are identified, understood, and appropriately managed.  Working together they have important roles in communicating information to employees on health and wellbeing, providing the necessary policies and procedures to manage the risks and to provide the necessary information, instruction, and training to equip employees with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe and healthy.

If you have any queries about the health and safety in your workplace, or if you are worried about the wellbeing of your employees please do not hesitate to get in contact with Lee Craig, Donna Wrigglesworth or your usual AAB People contact.

This blog is part of our series on Workplace Wellbeing, you can read the first blog of the series here.


By Lee Craig

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