21 May 2018
The Mental Health Foundation has recommended that mental health hazards in the workplace should be treated equally to physical health hazards by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and by employers.
In its new report, Stress: are we coping?, the charity reported that a third of people are stressed about work, with most taking work calls and emails outside of their usual hours. In particular, the foundation described stress levels among NHS staff as “alarming”, with 15 million working days lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2016, and the highest absence rates among frontline healthcare workers.
In fact, the public sector as a whole is seeing soaring stress levels among staff, with an increase of nearly two-thirds in the number of workers reporting mental health problems in 2016 compared with 2015.
“There are very few workplaces left in the UK in which employees working with hazardous chemicals would not be provided with protective equipment, and failures resulting in injury or even death prosecuted,” the report noted. “We do not currently adopt the same attitudes and behaviours towards psychological hazards.”
The charity defined a psychological hazard as one “that affects the mental well-being or mental health of the worker by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the worker’s ability to work in a healthy and safe manner”.
As well as recommending that the HSE encourages employers to take psychological hazards seriously, it called for an increase in enforcement action to ensure that health and safety legislation is effective.
Further, the foundation recommended that public sector workers should be provided with a minimum of two mental health days.
“Introducing and incentivising the use of mental health days could help to prevent stress escalating and turning into longer-term sickness absence by encouraging self-care,” the report explained.