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Wednesday, November 4, 1998 Published at 17:35 GMT


Health

Call for action on stress at work

Nursing is coming under increasing pressure, says Mr Clapham

A Labour MP has urged the government to take stronger action to combat stress.

Speaking on Wednesday - the first ever national stress awareness day - Michael Clapham said around 19.5 million working days were lost to illness each year and that seven million of these were due to stress.

He said the drive for greater productivity was a factor in stress.

He added that British workers suffered more stress because the UK's main competitors invested much more in their industries.

"Because British workers do not have the same level of investment, there is enormous pressure put on them to reach high levels of productivity to be competitive," he said in a brief Commons debate on health and safety at work.

Mr Clapham added that these pressures often led to bullying by managers and supervisors.

The Trades Union Congress says bullying is one of the main causes of stress.

And the International Stress Management Association says 81% of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) see it as a serious problem, but claims few do anything about it.

It has set up a helpline for stress awareness day to test the extent of the problem.

Mr Clapham called for a stress management strategy, "perhaps embraced through an approved code of practice".

Code of practice

The Health and Safety Executive said a working group had been looking at tightening up guidance for employers on stress.

It is to present an approved code of practice to the Health and Safety Commission in January.

This will not have the force of law, but is the next step up from guidance, setting out clearly employers' duties to their staff.

The HSE has been working on a range of measures to combat stress in the workplace for several years.

It has issued guidance for small businesses, set up studies into workplace intervention and examined recent research on stress at work.

A spokeswoman said the problem was that the Commission was tripartite and all decisions were taken by consensus.

However, the members of the Commission, who include the TUC and the CBI, often differed over the causes of stress and how to reduce it.

Proof

She said some problems could be due to stress at home or in getting to work. It was sometimes difficult to prove that employers were at fault.

The HSE only takes out criminal cases against employers if it believes the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt.

Most cases go before the civil courts where it is only necessary to prove them on the balance of possibilities.

Even so, few cases succeed. The HSE prefers to handle cases by issuing enforcement notices and talking to employers.

It explains that it is not in their interests if employees become so stressed they have to take time off work.

She added: "Most cases fall into the middle ground and we would advise employees to talk to their employer about their problems.

"However, there is a stigma attached to stress. It is seen as being one step away from mental illness, but all it is that the pressure is too much to bear.

"Employers should not think of it as a mental illness. They should try to find ways of dealing with the problem. Often allowing employees to talk about it can relieve the pressure."



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