The HSE’s chance to drive better stress management
Thursday 23rd November 2017
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
Now they are at the wrong end of a major report, the Stevenson-Farmer independent review of workplace mental health (see p 13), which argues the opposite. It says the the mental health crisis that has engaged the royal family and led the prime minister to call for more effort from the National Health Service, must be tackled in the workplace and that the HSE should be proactive in this area.
As I discovered recently at both the World Congress for Health and Safety in Singapore and the conference at the A+A trade show in Germany, the HSE's stress management standards (bit.ly/1Jmvt8K) offer the clearest available, practical advice for addressing a major source of work-related mental health issues.
The sexual predation scandal that has transfixed Hollywood, the theatre and parliament in recent weeks is partly about the exploitation of usually young people's ambitions to "get on" in their film, theatre or political careers, but such exploitation is present to a lesser extent in other types of workplaces. In many business sectors employers have developed mechanisms and tools to discourage and penalise this type of abuse of power.
Instead of saying 'this is a new issue', the Mates in Mind framework will be very comfortable for those already reducing serious accidents
Similarly, the HSE stress management standards spell out what good employers should do to reduce the risk of the workload, working relationships and management behaviour generating or exacerbating unsustainable psychological pressure on workers. Their implementation can contribute greatly to creating a workplace that is almost a haven from pressures arising in other aspects of workers' lives or from intrinsic mental health conditions.
That is the aim of the Mates in Mind programme, launched by the Health in Construction Leadership Group working in partnership with Mind, the Samaritans and Mental Health First Aid and hosted by the fifth partner, the British Safety Council. Currently aimed at the construction sector, the initiative is designed to speak the language of safety and health blended with that of mental healthcare. Instead of saying, "this is a new issue and everything you do has to be new" the framework will be very comfortable for those already doing a great job in reducing serious accidents in construction. We seem to be learning that playing to our strengths is best.
Perhaps that is what the Stevenson-Farmer report is getting at, that the HSE may not have focused on mental ill health other than on how work may cause problems, but there is an opportunity to build on the strengths of its capabilities and develop a broader programme to make workplaces psychologically safer just as we are doing to make them physically safe. That raises questions about the executive's resources and whether fee-for-intervention has harmed relationships between the here-to-help-you regulator and businesses.
Austerity and deregulation may not be the most helpful launchpad for a significant change in how we tackle mental ill health at work, but the enthusiasm with which the issue is being taken up may itself help us all to challenge the presumptions that both tax cuts and the cutting of "red tape" are always desirable.
The report’s title, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, signals the former bishop of Liverpool’s belief that the families were failed by the reactions of the police and other authorities to the crowd control failures at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued Stress Management Standards in 2004 as a framework for employers to check whether they were putting workers under unreasonable pressure and depriving them of the support and resources that would allow them to work efficiently.In the global recession at the end of the decade, the corporate interest in stress waned as many organisations adjusted to budget cuts by retrenching to safety management.
In most commercial enterprises, leaders have been educated in management theory and business administration but not in relationship building. By applying pure management theory, new leaders can find themselves over-reliant on data – which is vital in itself but it should not be at the expense of relationships in their early days.
Thompson said she only missed five daily training sessions in 16 years and spent the last four years of her sporting career trying to shave 0.01 seconds off her race time. “That’s about the same as the width of two sheets of paper,” she said.
The strongest came from IOSH chief executive Bev Messinger who launched the conference with an overview of progress on the WORK 2022 strategy that aims to improve safety and health standards worldwide by collaboration and influence. As an aside to an overview of IOSH’s aims for its WORK 2022 strategy which aims to help cut the estimated work-related death toll of 2.78 million a year by collaborating with and influencing bodies worldwide, Messinger told delegates her brother-in-law had been killed in a workplace accident on 12 October.
I interview Dermot Dolan just before he leaves his base at the Grange Castle biotechnology facility in Dublin, Ireland, to audit environment, health and safety (EHS) performance in Pfizer plants in India for two weeks.
Safety interventions should be practicable and cost-effective, but too much of an imbalance towards safety does not make economic sense for employers, argues Geoff Vaughan, who suggests ‘gross disproportion’ provides a practical limit.