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October 28, 2010

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Stress still the top safety concern in UK workplaces

Stress is by far the most common health and safety problem at work, particularly in the public sector, two separate surveys have found.

In the week following Government health and safety advisor Lord Young’s classification of shops, offices and schools as “low-hazard work environments”, and his subsequent recommendation that they be subject only to basic risk assessment, both the TUC and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) released figures that showed stress causes more concern than any other work-related hazard.

In the TUC’s biennial survey of safety reps, published today (28 October), nearly two thirds of the 1819 questioned said stress is in the top five problems faced by the workforces they represent, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) cited it as the hazard that most concerns them.

Stress is more prevalent in the public than in the private sector, with 68 per cent of reps in the former saying it is a problem, compared with 54 per cent in the latter.

This is backed up by the CIPD’s annual absence survey, published earlier this week, which found that stress is the most common cause for persistently high long-term absence in the public sector: 73 per cent of employees in manual jobs and 79 per cent in non-manual jobs cited is as one of the top five causes of absence.

According to the TUC, the problem is only going to get worse in the wake of the Government’s recently announced spending cuts, which are likely to hit the public sector hardest.

Said general secretary, Brendan Barber: “Stress can be caused by heavy workloads, cuts in staffing, long hours and bullying. The economic crisis and redundancies have created more anxiety about job security, and as the spending cuts begin to bite and even more jobs start to go, stress at work is bound to increase.
“Unions and employers must work together to combat stress at work, as it can have a devastating impact on workers and a damaging cost on businesses.”

Jill Miller, a CIPD advisor, agreed, adding: “Compared to the private sector, more public-sector employees are in challenging public-facing roles, such as social work, policing, teaching and nursing, where they often have to deal with people in difficult and emotionally-charged situations, putting pressure on their time and resilience.

“In addition, organisational change and restructuring is cited more commonly by public-sector employers than those in other sectors as a major cause of stress, which will only increase in the near future as a consequence of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review.” 

The TUC pointed out that these results emphasise that stress is just as real a safety problem as any other, and that its prevalence in and cost to the public sector gives the lie to the suggestion that offices and schools are low risk.

Said Brendan Barber: “Health and safety is not a throwback to a previous century, or an issue that only affects heavy industry. It is just as much an issue for offices and shops – workplaces that Lord Young dismisses as ‘low risk’, despite the evidence of high levels of work-related ill health in these sectors.”

After stress, bullying and harassment were the second most common health and safety concern cited by respondents to the TUC survey, followed by back strains, and slips, trips and falls.

For the first time in the survey, overwork was listed as a separate issue to stress and was the fifth most common hazard to be identified as a major concern. It was slightly more common in workplaces with more than a thousand workers, and is most prevalent in London and the South East.

The TUC survey can be downloaded from here.

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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13 years ago

Stress? In the public sector. Stress is the new “backache”, something that can be claimed and is very difficult to disprove. Life is not stress free. I think that a lot of public sector workers will get a huge shock when/if they end up in the private sector. They will have to justify their employment every hour of every day, then they will have a better understanding of stress, the normal day to day stress we ALL suffer as part of life.

13 years ago

Just who the hell are we kidding here. As a senior manager of a failed company employing around 80 people I could write a book on stress and I can’t imagine what my directors went through. I would imagine that there are thousands of companies with directors, managers and workers suffering huge amounts of stress without any backup. These are companies without safety reps or questionaire etc to pass opinion, they are honest people struggling. So get real and produce a meaninfull survey then shout.

13 years ago

with the progression of medical technology ” back pain” is no longer a cash cow for the sick lame and lazy, enter into the arena stress in all its many forms
stress the back pain of the new century