Stress is workers’ top health and safety concern, finds survey

TUC research shows 70 per cent say stress is number one hazard

Construction worker


Stress is the top health and safety concern in the UK, finds research published by the TUC for World Mental Health Day.

In the TUC’s survey of more than 1,000 health and safety reps around the UK, stress was cited as the top concern, with 70 per cent of reps citing it as a problem – up three per cent since the last survey in 2014 when 67 per cent did so, and a higher proportion than in any previous TUC study.

Stress is one of the main causes of mental health problems, in particular anxiety and depression. Workers in the public sector, which is the most impacted by government cuts, experience some of the highest levels of stress.

It is especially prevalent in central government, where 93 per cent of reps cited it as a top five workplace hazard, as well as in education (89 per cent) and health services (82 per cent). But there is also a rise in concern about levels of stress at medium-sized companies.

Regionally, stress is the most widespread concern. It has increased the most in the last two years in Northern Ireland (up by 13 points to 78 per cent compared to 65 per cent in 2014), the North (up by 11 points to 78 per cent), Scotland (up by eight points to 74 per cent) and the South West (up by six points to 81 per cent).

East Anglia (64 per cent) the South East (67 per cent) and Wales (75 per cent) have all seen five per cent increases in stress being reported as the main health and safety concern at work.

For workers experiencing these problems it is not always easy to ask for adjustments in the workplace. There is often a sense of shame and stigma; the message projected by the media and a language which demonises mental health problems can often be internalised.

Adjustments for people experiencing mental health problems could include: time off for counselling or other medical appointments, (this may include compressed or flexible working if the appointment is a weekly appointment); adjusting the start and end of working hours, (if sleeping is a problem or if overcrowding on public transport maybe difficult); and adjustments to the sickness absence policy where time off is related to a disability.

As stigma remains a huge barrier, it may be useful to consider suitable awareness raising exercises.

For union organising around mental health there are some clear ways to bargain for equality:

  • Continue to campaign in the workplace.
  • Raise awareness about the issues facing people with mental health problems.
  • Provide information on practical solutions and examples of good practice.
  • Use this to increase people’s understanding of mental heal in the workplace.

This will go some way in dispelling myths and fears about people with mental health problems. It may also help to encourage people with mental health problems to talk about their experiences and become active in the workplace.

Blogging about mental health can be an effective channel. I started this at my last workplace and three years later it became the norm.

Organise in the workplace. Organise workplace forums for members with mental health problems. Engage people by talking to members formally and informally about their issues and ideas for resolving these and organise union led training on issues members have identified.

You may also wish to engage with wider campaign groups to develop workplace campaigns.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

‘The message from the shop floor is clear, stress is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Pressures of long working hours and low job security are being felt in workplaces across the UK.

It’s in no-one’s interests to have stressed-out workforces and bosses have to stop treating their staff like machines. People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off.’ 

She added:

Anyone worried about their workload or being unfairly treated at work should join a union, to get the support they need and their interests represented at work.’

Huma Munshi is the Disability and LGBT Equality Policy Officer for the TUC

See: Trade unions must offer more than nostalgia – how can they move forward?

3 Responses to “Stress is workers’ top health and safety concern, finds survey”

  1. Imran Khan

    I think what contributes to this is the general insecurity that people are feeling outside the workplace as well as at work. Once upon a time there were working class communities that gave support to individuals. These have now fragmented and gone for a number of reason, the right to buy has broken up communities of several generations, large industries that had employed several generations of families with a community have gone and generation rent is now the lifetime reality for a growing proportion of the population. All contributing factors.

  2. Dave Stewart

    It’s a pity there is no mention here of employers legal duty to remove the causes of stress from the workplace. So many times I have had to deal with employers talking about what staff can do to avoid stress: take regular exercise, speak to friends and family etc. but completely fail to recognise they have a duty to deal with the workplace practices actually causing stress such as bullying managers, excessive workloads, unattainable deadlines and performance management.

    It’s a pity the HSE has been so defanged by successive governments. It’s basically impossible to get them to do anything now unless someone dies or is serious injured. H&S law in this country is now more or less unenforced unless something tragic occurs.

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