• Lee Calver
  • 21 October 2014

European Week for Safety and Health at Work looks at managing work-related stress

This week sees the start of the 2014 European Week for Safety and Health at Work, a highlight of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign. Occurring from 20 - 24 October, hundreds of events will be held across Europe to mark the occasion.

Sticking with the current theme, Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and its community of partners aim to get Europe discussing stress and psychosocial risks in the workplace and how we can tackle them together.

Commenting ahead of the start of the week, Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA, said:

“This is an issue which can have enormous costs for both the health of employees and of businesses.

“With work-related stress being the second most frequently reported health problem in Europe and with costs to businesses of mental health disorders estimated at around 240 billion euros per year, this is something that we simply cannot afford to ignore.”

Dr Sedlatschek added:

“As is evident from the week’s full programme of events, our network across Europe is doing a good job to make sure employers and employees do take notice.”

EU-OSHA noted that partners of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign, including enterprises, employer and employee representatives, as well as OSH specialists, are conjuring up a variety of ways to highlight the campaign messages. As well as training activities scheduled in the UK, there are press conferences taking place in Belgium and Slovenia, a conference in Ireland and a Healthy Workplaces film screening in Estonia.

Events are not only happening at national level - Europe’s regions are also getting involved, as Spain will witness 57 events take place across the country as part of its European Week programme.

Report stresses importance for employers to manage psychosocial risks

To help its partners in their campaign efforts, EU-OSHA offers numerous free resources which are accessible from the campaign website. In addition, EU-OSHA, in collaboration with Eurofound, has recently published a new report, ‘Psychosocial risks in Europe - Prevalence and strategies for prevention’.

The report revealed that one-quarter of workers in Europe feel stressed at work all or most of the time and a similar proportion say that work affects their health negatively. It stated that psychosocial risks - for example, monotonous tasks, high work intensity, tight deadlines, poor work-life balance, violence and harassment from the public or from colleagues - contribute to work-related stress.

Published as part of the Europe-wide campaign, Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress, the report gives a broad overview on psychosocial risks at European workplaces and gives examples on the way forward at political as well as company level - all illustrated with real-life examples and case studies.

It acknowledges the complexity of the relationship between health and work and recognises that practical support is needed to bring about change. Furthermore, it provides a snapshot of working conditions and the incidence of psychosocial risks in Europe, discussing how to manage those risks in the workplace as well as outlining policy interventions.

Dr Christa Sedlatschek described the report as an excellent example of interagency collaboration, stating:

“One of the key messages of our 2014–15 Healthy Workplaces Campaign is that psychosocial risks, although more sensitive, can be tackled in the same systematic way as ‘traditional’ workplace risks.

“By combining their strengths, EU-OSHA and Eurofound have produced a state-of-the-art review that will make an important contribution to the success of this campaign in getting that message across. In the same way, by working together, management and employees can tackle workplace stress effectively.”

Director of Eurofound, Juan Menéndez-Valdés, added:

“Reducing psychosocial risks and protecting workers from these risks is critical for allowing longer working lives and preventing early labour market exits. Evidence shows that policies are not developed to the same extent in all European countries, which can be explained by the different traditions of social dialogue and different Governmental approaches, often related to the importance the country gives to psychosocial risks.

“We hope that our joint report will provide practitioners and policy-makers with both the insight and incentive to overcome these challenges of psychosocial risks in the workplace. Research shows that the role of social dialogue and social partners is relevant to raise awareness and implement interventions.”

The report discusses the importance, in the context of longer working lives, of reducing the prevalence of psychosocial risks at work.

According to the study, job insecurity has increased across Europe, and in some countries, work intensity has risen in companies struggling in the economic crisis. Work-related stress can often be described as a ‘sensitive’ or ‘difficult’ area to discuss, and the report believes that in particular, managers of small firms find it tough to tackle psychosocial risks due to a lack of resources or expertise.

For reasons such as this, it is vital that campaigns take place. The 2014–15 Healthy Workplaces Campaign aims to address these difficulties by providing practical advice and support, raising awareness and stimulating debate. EU-OSHA says that by pooling its expertise with Eurofound, it can reach out more effectively to policy-makers and Europe’s workplaces and provide them with the information and support they need to manage stress and make Europe a better place to work.

Continue the push

Striving to manage work-related stress and psychosocial risks doesn’t just stop with the European Week though. In November of this year, an e-guide in all European languages, which gives SMEs advice on how to deal with stress in their workplaces, will be released.

In December, EU-OSHA will also announce a new wave of Official Campaign Partners, and in 2015, the winners of the 12th edition of the European Good Practice Awards will be announced.

To find out more about the programme of events happening during the 2014 European Week for Safety and Health at Work, visit the campaign website. You can also check the page of your national coordinator to find out what is happening in your country.

Top tips

Offering advice to help small companies tackle stress in the workplace, The Forum of Private Business has urged business owners not to ignore stress, which it cites as one of the major health and safety risks in the workplace.

Statistics show stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe and, along with other psychosocial risks, is thought to account for more than half (50–60%) of all lost working days.

A poor psychosocial work environment can have significant negative effects on workers' health, as Jo Eccles, Business Advisor at the Forum, explains:

"A large amount of health and safety guidance tends to focus on the physical risks that small business employers need to consider in protecting their employees, but mental well-being and workplace stress remain the poor relation.

"Excessive stress can interfere with employee’s productivity and is linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors.”

Eccles added:

"Businesses do have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Stress should be treated with the same importance as any other potential health and safety risk and developing a clear procedure and policies in place to tackle the issue."

The Forum has also produced a list of top tips to help employers tackle stress in the workplace.

Find us on Twitter and LinkedIn to continue the discussion.