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I have recently been asked to provide training for middle and senior managers on: ‘how to implement a stress risk assessment’ and this made me reflect on this under-used technique.

Work related stress is governed by the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the European Council Directive 89/391/EEC which requires all organisations of 5 or more people to carry out regular risk assessments including the psychosocial issues of stress, bullying, harassment and work-life balance. Since 2004, the HSE has made this relatively easy, by providing 35 questions which cover psychosocial issues, based on the management standards.  These questions, covering the 6 key stress risks, should be put to all employees and results input to an algorithm system on the HSE website.  There are companies who will help with this procedure or do the whole organisational risk assessment for you – providing results and explanations of what they mean.

In 2011 the British Standards Institute produced PAS1010 which puts the issue of psychosocial risk into perspective for senior managers and provides knowledge and action plans to ensure compliance, which should reduce costly risk.  Basically it indicates psychosocial risk management best practice.  This is what I will base my training on, as well as in depth knowledge of the HSE management standards and how to implement them.

In my experience, not many organisations are aware of the above guidance or the HSE regulations, or are interested in applying them.  This is despite the increasing costs of absence (much of it due to stress related ill health), presentism (much of it caused by fear of absence management procedures) and civil claims for stress, which are upheld due to lack of organisational rigor and assessment.

The HSE website says:

“ HSE’s approach to tackling work related stress is not enforcement led. However, where appropriate, HSE will investigate complaints relating to work related stress and enforcement action may be taken if there is clear evidence of a breach of health and safety law, and a demonstrable risk to the health and safety of employees.

An organisation that has carried out a risk assessment based on the management standards or a similar approach that identified major problems/issues, would be unlikely to be subject to enforcement action, if it could demonstrate it was taking steps to address those problems/issues”.

However they have issued Improvement notices to West Dorset General Hospitals NHS Trust and Liverpool Hope University in 2003 and 2009 respectively for failing to risk assess employees’ exposure to causes of work-related stress, and in 2002 a former post office worker was awarded damages of £93,880 plus costs after managers failed to implement measures to help him cope with a stress-related illness caused by overwork. In terms of indirect costs, the HSE’s 2013 report on stress and psychological disorders shows that work-related stress caused workers in Great Britain to lose 10.4 million working days in 2011/2012, and accounted for 40% of all work-related illnesses in 2011/12, particularly among health, teaching and education professionals.

Employers are responsible for action both at board level and among their employees, and failure to assess risks, put in place or implement a viable policy to deal with stress in the workplace, may result in name & shame by the HSE, direct financial costs including sick pay, sickness cover or the cost of settling civil claims, and indirect costs as a result of low workplace morale or lost productivity.

I am still convinced that an organisational stress risk assessment, done well, engages staff and management, provides extensive information and feedback which can be worked through with focus and action groups for the benefit of all!


Ann McCracken is a Director of AMC2 and the vice president of the International Management Association (ISMA UK) – the professional body for stress management Practitioners.

She specialises in developing a positive and resilient working culture in organisations by introducing effective strategies in performance and wellbeing at all levels. The effectiveness of such a positive working culture is measured and assessed using AMC2 Corporate Diagnostic innovative surveys which include measurement of psychosocial factors, stress and wellbeing. Having initially trained as a scientist, she carried out research with DEFRA and consultancy in the NHS.

She spent 10 years in Education before retraining as a stress management practitioner in 1996. She is the author of Stress Gremlins©, regularly writes/broadcasts and is an external lecturer at Westminster University. She is also a Key Note/Motivational speaker/Conference Chair.

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