Making Minds Matter: The HSE’s proactive approach to workplace stress

April is Stress Awareness Month. This article explores current stats around work-related mental health and the HSE guidance for dealing with stress in the workplace.

29 April 2024

Making Minds Matter: The HSE’s proactive approach to workplace stress

As April, Stress Awareness Month, draws to a close, we are reflecting on the importance of mental health when considering Health and Safety in the workplace  and how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will likely approach the issue in the future.

The HSE’s approach to stress

The HSE defines stress as a “harmful reaction to undue pressures and demands”. 2022/23 saw 875,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety across the UK. This is significantly higher than the 561,000 non-fatal injuries reported during the same period, and cost businesses 32.5 million working days last year. 

Tackling work-related mental illness is top of the HSE’s strategic objectives for the next 10 years as it is now the number one cause of work-related ill health, accounting for 41% of all cases. The HSE has stressed that it wants to impart greater accountability and stricter management standards as mental illness continues to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

What are employers’ legal obligations relating to mental health?

All employers are legally required to consider mental health when undertaking risk assessments. Specific challenges to mental health must be identified, with reasonable steps taken to remove or diminish risks. 

Risk assessments should consider six key areas of work design which impact stress levels: 

  • Deadlines and demands;
  • Control;
  • managerial support; 
  • relationships;
  • role; and 
  • changes. 

The HSE provides a risk assessment template which addresses stress-related risks and can provide a useful starting point for identifying potential hazards in your business. 

Further guidance on designing stress risk assessments as well as examples for small, medium and larger organisations can be found here.

Getting it wrong

The HSE guidance states that it will consider prosecuting work-related stress where evidence shows that several employees are experiencing issues and/or where evidence arises of wider organisational failings in relation to employee mental health. 

The Work Right campaign – promoting strong mental health in the workplace

The HSE has also launched Work Right – a mental health campaign that provides online learning modules and materials for employers to promote strong mental health in the workplace. Their interactive tools can be accessed here. Employers should familiarise themselves with the five Rs of the HSE’s Working Minds Campaign – Reaching out, Recognising signs, Responding, Reflection and Routine when faced with work-related ill health.

If you have questions regarding your mental health responsibilities under Health and Safety law, including the role of risk assessments within your organisation, please contact Kevin Clancy or another member of our Health and Safety team.

This article was Co-authored by Trainee Killian Dockrell.