• International Workplace
  • 20 June 2018

Call for psychological hazards to be considered in workplace safety assessments

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is calling on the government to introduce new standards for employers, to consider psychological hazards in workplace safety assessments.

In its recent report, Stress: are we coping? the mental health charity states that government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must ensure that employers treat physical and psychological hazards in the workplace equally and help employers recognise and address psychological hazards in the workplace under existing legislation.

The call comes after an MHF survey found that over the past year, almost three-quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

While stress isn't a mental health problem in itself, it often leads to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. It can also lead to physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and joint and muscle problems.

Health and safety at work legislation clearly requires employers to identify and mitigate physical and psychological hazards to workers (Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999). Indeed, the report says 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.

But, says the MHF, we do not currently adopt the same attitudes and behaviours towards psychological hazards. A psychological hazard is any hazard that affects the mental wellbeing 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.

“We are calling for stronger action by government and relevant agencies including HSE to help employers recognise and address psychological hazards,” say the report’s authors. “We must also see an increase in enforcement of breaches, and the development of appropriate case law and precedents to enable staff to use in practice the rights they have in law to be protected from harm.”

The report also recommends that:

  • health and social care professionals should assess and address the psychological and other stressors experienced by people living with long-term physical health conditions;
  • people presenting to a 'first point of contact' service in distress should receive a compassionate and trauma-informed response, regardless of where they live in the country;
  • governments across the UK should introduce a minimum of two mental health days for every public sector worker;
  • mental health literacy should be a core competency in teacher training. This should be combined with rolling out mental health literacy support for pupils in schools across the UK to embed a 'whole-school approach' to mental health and wellbeing;
  • the government should conduct an impact assessment of welfare reform and austerity programmes on mental health; and
  • more research is needed on the prevalence of stress in the population, and on how the experience of stress can be reduced at the community and societal level.

The full report can be downloaded for free here.