The 'Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989' requires employers to manage any significant risks which can affect the health of their employees, including the causes of work related stress.
This article provides information for employees where work related stress may be a significant risk.
Why work related stress is an issue
Absence from work due to work related stress can:
- cause losses to the business affected
- cause suffering of the individual concerned
- affect anyone at any level of the business
- affect any job or industry
Statistics collected in recent years show that stress related illness is one of the most significant factors associated with absence from work due to ill health.
It is likely that there is considerable under-reporting of work related stress.
The reporting system relies on the medical practitioner including the word ‘stress’ on the medical certificate, and/or the individual concerned to submit additional information.
Latest figures show that stress related illness in Jersey accounts for:
- approximately 9000 working days lost annually
- an average of approximately 44 days per claimant
This length of absence has a big impact on both the employee and the employer.
Definition of work related stress
Work related stress is defined as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work'.
We can feel pressure from many sources including:
- relationships and caring resposibilities
- financial concerns
- health worries
- work related issues
It is when these pressures, which can be from a single source or from a combination of areas, become too much for us that we can start to suffer from stress.
We often say we are stressed when actually we are simply ‘having a bad day’. Being stressed is a physical, mental and emotional state we reach over a period of time and can ultimately lead to ill health.
Potential causes of stress
There are many potential sources of stress, one of which is work.
The point at which you will become stressed is very individual. It depends on:
- the level of pressure you are under
- your personality type
- your perception of the pressure being placed on you
When we are stressed, our bodies are flooded with hormones which prepare us to respond to what we perceive as a threat. This is known as the fight or flight response which is an extremely important reaction for helping us to deal with physical threats.
It becomes a problem when we are unable to deal with the threat by fighting or running, as is the case with most modern day pressures.
If your body remains in a stressed state for any length of time, then it is likely your health will be affected. This can be short or long term, some illnesses such as obesity and heart disease have been linked with stress.
How stress can affect you
It is important to remember that there will be days when you will feel under pressure and may feel out of sorts. If this is only for a short period, when the pressure is dealt with or removed, you will return to feeling normal again.
You can become stressed when the pressure continues and your ability to cope is reduced. This can lead to short term ill health effects which include:
- heart palpitations
- excessive sweating
- poor decision making
- loss of short term memory
- increase in blood sugar levels
Feeling stressed can cause us to behave in ways which have a negative impact on our overall health such as stopping exercise, over-eating, increased drinking of alcohol or smoking.
Stress can cause a number of long term illnesses including diabetes, obesity and heart disease. These tend to be linked with the hormones produced and the changes in our behaviour.
What the law requires from your employer
Under the Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989, your employer has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that you are not exposed to risks to your health.
If stress is recognised as a significant hazard in the workplace, employers are required to take action to reduce the risks to their employees. Your employer should have written arrangements in place which should include the preparation of a risk assessment for stress.
The UK Health and Safety Executive produces practical guidance, 'Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach: A step-by-step workbook'. This sets out a 'risk assessment' approach to tackling work related stress.
It includes the six common causes of stress in the workplace which if effectively managed, reflect a high level of health, well-being, increased productivity and decreased sickness absence.
Further details of these standards and other resources to assist employers with managing stress are available from the links below.
UK's Health and Safety Executive's website: stress
UK's Health and Safety Executive's website: further stress resources
Work related stress: Practical guidance for employers