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Time to take mental health as seriously as occupational health

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) promotes culture change surrounding work related stress and poor mental health with their new campaign.

Despite being the most common reason cited for absence from work, and costing UK businesses an estimated £45 billion per year, mental health often plays second fiddle to other occupational health and safety.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) is seeking to change this with its new “Working Minds” campaign (“The Campaign”).

The Campaign provides information on legal obligations, advice, and tools on its website, but also advocates a culture change where “Work-related stress and poor mental health [are] treated with the same significance as risks of poor physical health and injury”.

The HSE stresses that the duty to protect against risks to mental health also applies to those working from home. With huge numbers of employees continuing to work from home in light of the current pandemic, which for some can lead to increased isolation and loneliness, this is something employers will need to get on top of.

Businesses will also want to think about employee engagement. It is now routine to enter a dialogue with employees and employee representatives about how to tackle safety issues. As such, the same should apply to mental health issues. Employers will also need to consider how mental health risk factors can be reported to management, in a similar way to how safety risks and near-misses are reported, without this generating additional HR and data protection concerns.

If, and when, the HSE’s approach will shift from championing good mental health practice, to enforcing in relation to bad mental health practice, remains to be seen but should be taken seriously. Back in October 2019 the HSE announced that it would start to investigate businesses, stating;

"If a number of staff are experiencing work-related stress or stress-related ill health … If they don’t have a risk assessment for stress that focuses on organisational control they may well be facing enforcement action.”

For advice or assistance, our health and safety lawyers provide a comprehensive service to help ensure regulatory compliance, whatever your business.

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