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STRESS & WORK RELATED DISEASES


announcing that for the next two years, it will focus on work-related stress, featuring the slogan, ‘Healthy workplaces manage stress’.


HSE has firmly backed the campaign, urging British companies not only to take part in the EU-OSHA campaign, but to take practical actions to manage work-related stress in their organisations.


In particular, the HSE has encouraged British organisations that manage stress effectively to enter the European Good Practice Awards, which form part of EU-OSHA’s campaign, and aim to highlight leading examples of actively managing stress and psychosocial risks at work.


British trade unions have also become increasingly vocal in urging employers to tackle work-related stress. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) marked World Mental Health Day on 10th October this year by releasing the results of their latest survey of workplace health and safety representatives: the research identified stress as the top concern in UK workplaces.


Over two-thirds of safety representatives (67 %) who took part in the TUC’s survey said that stress, and the effect it is having on their colleagues, is the main concern they have to deal with at work.


SIX KEY CAUSES


OF STRESS AT WORK In 2004, the HSE launched its Management Standards for work- related stress. The Management Standards cover six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. In other words, the Management Standards cover the six main causes of stress at work. These are:


• Demands – this relates to aspects such as how heavy (or even excessive) the workload is, as well as work patterns and the work environment


• Control – this factor is determined by how much say the person has in the way they do their work, with


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lack of control being associated with higher stress levels and vice versa


• Support – workers who are effectively encouraged, sponsored and supported with adequate resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues, tend to experience lower levels of stress


• Relationships – promoting positive ways of working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour is associated with lower stress


• Roles – this relates to 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 has a major effect on work-related stress


TACKLING OCCUPATIONAL


DISEASE Perhaps the most important point to note about workplace stress in the context of occupational diseases is that no serious threat to worker health should ever be tolerated.


“RECENT ESTIMATES SUGGEST THAT STRESS, ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ACCOUNT FOR OVER ONE-THIRD OF ALL NEW CASES OF ILL- HEALTH AT WORK.”


The UK faces a massive burden of occupational disease: the total annual number of deaths from work-related ill health in Britain is estimated to exceed 12,600. Furthermore, the HSE has calculated the annual cost of occupationally related ill health at over £8 billion, a figure which excludes cancers.


There was a time when ill health, such as lung disease experienced by


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coal miners as a result of exposure to coal dust, was considered to be an unfortunate ‘part of the job’. Now, thanks in part to the principles of occupational hygiene, such views have completely lost credibility. In fact, BOHS helped to establish standards for dust control in coalmines in the UK and other countries, permitting modern mechanised methods of coal production. This reduced the incidence of pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease, among miners.


These days, we know that each and every threat to worker health, and indeed safety, can and should be effectively managed and controlled – occupational stress is no exception to this rule.


Traditionally, occupational hygiene has been concerned with controlling exposure to hazards such as chemicals and dusts, as well as to physical agents such as noise and vibration. However, occupational hygiene is about protecting worker health and this means protecting workers from all risks, both traditional and newly identified.


What is clear is that work-related stress, like other occupational diseases, can be managed by proven risk assessment techniques, incorporating tools such as the HSE’s Management Standards for work- related stress.


A multidisciplinary approach to managing occupational stress and psychosocial risks is required and occupational hygienists are well placed to work with others and assist with workplace adjustments.


Organisations that proactively tackle the underlying causes of work-related stress will not only enjoy improved morale, but also experience concrete economic benefits such as reduced costs of sick pay, sickness cover, overtime and recruitment.


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