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February 10, 2017

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Stress: an ergonomist’s perspective


Nigel Heaton, Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (CIEHF), specialises in stress and workplace well-being. Nigel discusses the reporting of stress, job design and why employers must assess the risks and support associated poor health.

Employers have a duty to report certain types of injuries that ‘arise out of or in connection with work’ under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR, 2013) report. However, according to RIDDOR, stress is not reportable as an occupational injury, even when accompanied by a medical certificate confirming it is work-related. Nigel explains: “This is because stress is multifactorial and does not result from a single definable accident; however, does mean that work stress should be dismissed?”

According to The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health and contributed towards 440,000 of cases.  Workload pressures, including tight deadlines, excess of responsibility and a lack of managerial support tends to be the main cause of work related stress. Despite it being such a widespread problem, affecting the very best of us on a day-to-day basis, work stress is not deemed a reportable injury or ill condition.


Further fuelling the debate, some medical professionals are cynical as to whether stress exists, and some believe stress is not their responsibility to diagnose or treat. Unfortunately, it seems numerous bosses and workplace directors take the same approach, seemingly shying away and fearing the taboo. Despite the fact that a third of UK workers fall victim to stress within their careers, it is still something that is not taken seriously in the workplace.

According to Nigel Heaton, job design is a key determinant of quality of working life and plays an important role in worker engagement, productivity, innovation and well-being. Job design refers to they way tasks or an entire job is organised, determining what tasks are done, how they are completed and in what order. Good features of job design accommodate a person’s mental and physical activity, helping to build feelings of self-esteem and give employees a sense of accomplishment. Initiatives that enrich jobs and opportunities for employees to reflect and develop their learning can also go a long way in improving job satisfaction.

This isn’t to say all stress is bad; there is such a thing as ‘good stress’, of which Nigel is a firm believer: “Stress can be functional, practical, urging you to get something done and shows that you care about what you’re doing. Understanding stress levels and personal stressors is what is important for individuals to grasp. The stress we know and loath that feels inescapable is what we call chronic stress, something that our bodies are not designed for, hence the negative physical and emotional health effects.”

To tackle serious stress there is a multitude of advice available and a number of indicator tools that are free to use and share within your workplace. The HSE is a good place to start as it offers free and easy access to indicator and analysis tools that allow you to survey you and your workforce’s current well-being, and recommends how to manage the risks associated with work related stress.

Nigel concludes: “The reality is that work related stress isn’t going anywhere. It’s absolutely vital that employers are open to assessing the risks of stress on their employees and are ready to mitigate stress-levels where possible whilst providing the right support. Ultimately, lowering negative stress levels will increase productivity and staff morale, so it’s within a business’s best interest to take action as soon as they can.”


Nigel Heaton CIEHF

Nigel Heaton is a director of Human Applications, a Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors registered organisation specialising in the provision of risk management services. He is a Fellow and Chartered Member of the CIEH and is a Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.   He has provided advice to many organisations on the challenges of promoting a better work environment. Recent projects include providing training and advice to organisations on the management of lone working; dealing with violent and aggressive incidents and providing effective employee assistance programmes.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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7 years ago

We are experts in stress. We have been for decades, long before stress was regarded as the danger it is. THERE IS NO “GOOD” STRESS” !! If one understands stress, how it arises, what it does, and why it is dangerous, one knows that all stress is dangerous. Chronic stress created from anger, frustration, grief, hate, etc etc., is the most dangerous. Our speciality is to prevent the unavoidable and inevitable incoming distresses of life from becoming stress in the body and creating the conditions for many forms of unwellness….diabetes, cancer, and depression among them. Employers, where a workplace is… Read more »

Stress: an ergonomist’s perspective – ssdsafety
7 years ago

[…] Nigel Heaton, CIEHF, discusses the reporting of stress, job design and why employers must assess the risks and support associated poor health. […]