Is Employee Mental Ill Health A Health & Safety Risk?

Industry News By Sarah

When the topic of health and safety is broached, the onus is generally put on the physical risks associated with the workplace, particularly in industries such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing, which are inherently more dangerous than other sectors.

But what of mental ill health? What risks, if any, can employee mental health and wellbeing engender and how can businesses overcome these to ensure the safety of their staff?

Mental health in the workplace

Mental health conditions are incredibly common, with around one in four people in the UK experiencing such concerns annually and one in six experiencing issues like anxiety and depression in any given week.

As such, it’s important that organisations further their understanding of how this can impact their operations so that measures can be implemented to safeguard their employees.

Conditions such as anxiety and depression (the most common forms of mental health issues) often stem from external life events such as a bereavement but they can also be sparked by the work environment itself.

Given that employers have a legal responsibility to help their members of staff, it can be beneficial to assess the risk levels that present themselves in terms of mental health, with steps taken to reduce these risks or remove them entirely.

However, a recent report from global law firm Ashurst, published in November last year, found that just 25 per cent of UK respondents view mental ill health as a safety issue, with the majority considering it to be an HR concern instead.

Compare this to Australia and you’ll see that 80 per cent of respondents consider psychological and psychosocial concerns to be health and safety risks.

It was also found that many organisations haven’t yet implemented risk assessments to help manage and prevent the risks associated with mental ill health, despite the fact that all businesses are required to manage both physical and psychosocial risks alike.

Almost 39 per cent of respondents across all sectors said they’d completed and recorded risk assessments that took both of these into account, suggesting there is still significant scope for improvement in this regard.

It could be beneficial for companies to look at the Thriving at Work government report published back in 2017 to help them support their staff members more effectively. A framework of actions – known as Core Standards – was developed to help promote good mental health and signpost people to the support available should they need it.

Information, tools and support should also be made accessible to help develop mental health awareness, while open conversations on the topic should be encouraged regularly, with workplace adjustments offered as appropriate.

Furthermore, it’s essential that good working conditions are provided and that employees are able to strike a healthy work/life balance, with plenty of opportunities for personal and professional development.

Line managers and supervisors should be trained in effective management practices and mental health and wellbeing should be monitored routinely through data analysis, a deep understanding of the risk factors and through talking to employees.

By following these steps, you’re sure to see the mental health of your workforce improve, with those who do suffer from mental ill health supported in such a way that enables them to thrive in the same way as their peers.

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