Under The Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978 all employers have a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.
This duty of care applies to both mental and physical wellbeing which means that mental wellbeing must be considered with the same duty of care as physical wellbeing under health and safety legislation. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 as amended also require employers to carry out risk assessments involving the health, safety and welfare of their staff at work.
Mental ill-health can be triggered or exacerbated by work-related stress. Managing this issue properly can reduce costs in relation to absenteeism and also help with reduced productivity through lower performance levels of employees who are at work but experiencing stress or mental health issues. Therefore strategies which address the causes and consequences of mental health are an important consideration in any organisation.
Actions which can be taken to address this at organisational level include:
visible commitment to good management practices – good line management can lead to good health, wellbeing and improved performance
adopt and adhere to formal policies on stress and mental health – having a policy outlining the responsibilities of both the individual and the organisation
encourage a culture of openness in relation to mental health issues – positive attitudes to mental wellbeing can help reduce stigma for those experiencing mental ill-health
assess the risk and potential causes of stress within the organisation - the Health and Safety Executive have published Management Standards to provide supporting guidance on assessing the risks within a workplace
draw up action plans to promote mental wellbeing – engage staff and their representatives in drawing up action plans to promote mental wellbeing and reduce stress
offer resources and interventions – the most basic resource which can be offered is time to listen to an employee who is experiencing problems. In addition other systems to support employees should be established, such as counselling. Reasonable adjustments should be allowed to help staff manage mental health conditions and work-related stress, for example, flexi-time and working from home. Occupational health professionals can provide advice and some charitable mental health organisations can provide support to organisations.
provide information and training – this can support staff in managing stress and improving mental wellbeing for themselves and others. Training may include training in stress awareness, mental health first aid, time management and team building.
Equality legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) may also be relevant. Some people may be considered disabled under the DDA as a result of their mental health condition and will be protected under this legislation. Not all those with mental health conditions will be protected under the DDA as much depends on the nature of the condition. However recent changes to the DDA mean that mental illness no longer has to be a clinically well-recognised condition to be covered. Other legislation which can impact on mental wellbeing at work includes the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 which makes it an offence for someone to follow a course of conduct which they know, or ought to know, amounts to harassment of another person.
For more information about all aspects of health and safety in the workplace contact your local CAB or from the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland on their One-2-One Helpline 0800 0320 121 or by visiting their website at www.hseni.gov.uk. Copies of the new HSENI workplace guidance on Mental Wellbeing can also be obtained from HSENI’s Workplace Health Support Group on 028 9034 7421.
Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice