Stress is one of the biggest causes of health problems in the workplace. In general terms, stress is a reaction to pressure or harassment at work.

The Health and Safety Executive’s definition of stress is: “The reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures, arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected with their job, but find difficulty, strain or worry in doing so.”

Stress can be caused by a number of factors including:

  • long hours and shift work;
  • lack of control or insecurity;
  • lack of job satisfaction, boredom or isolation;
  • fear of violence, bullying or harassment;
  • bad relations with other work colleagues;
  • problems with the working environment (such as noise, temperature, overcrowding and poor facilities);
  • low pay.

Stress can cause mental and physical illnesses such as anxiety, depression, altered appetite, headaches, backache or difficulty in sleeping. Over time, heart disease or ulcers may also develop.

People may also try to reduce the symptoms of stress with alcohol, cigarettes, tranquillisers or other drugs, which can lead to further, more serious health issues.

The law says that employers are responsible for the safety of their employees while they are at work, and this includes stress. Certain levels of stress are normal and may even be helpful. However excessive levels of stress can be destructive and lead to psychiatric injury for which the employer may be liable for a claim in a county court for negligence depending upon the circumstances.

Once an employer knows that a worker is or may be at risk of injury, they must investigate the problem and find out what they can do to resolve it.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, your employer must assess the nature and scale of health risks at work (including stress). Every employer should conduct a risk assessment in the workplace. The risk assessment should include stress as a potential hazard. If stress is identified as a hazard then appropriate control measures may need to be introduced.

If you are affected by any of the symptoms of stress such as long working hours or unreasonable workloads, contact your UNISON rep.