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Pressure points

Psychosocial risks and work-related stress are among the most challenging issues in occupational health and safety. They impact significantly on individuals, organisations and national economies.

Around half of European workers consider stress to be common in their workplace, and it contributes to about half of all lost working days. Absence surveys by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development consistently place stress in the top three causes of sickness absence. The findings are consistent for the public and private sectors, and for manual and non-manual workers; rates are highest in the public and third sectors.

Like many other issues surrounding mental health, stress is often misunderstood or stigmatised. However, when viewed as an organisational issue rather than an individual fault, psychosocial risks and stress can be just as manageable as any other workplace health and safety risk.

It is important to see stress as an outcome, with pressure being the hazard. The key to understanding stress as an issue is by understanding how and where it is caused. All workers react differently to pressure: while one may adversely react to a source of pressure, another could react in a positive way to the same stimulus. Individual susceptibility is therefore a key factor. Employers must also be aware that individuals may suffer stress reactions from situations at home rather than it arising purely from work-related activity, which can also affect performance and wellbeing at work.

Health and safety practitioners may believe psychosocial factors are outside the scope of their job role and their competence. It is therefore vital that we develop close working relationships with occupational health, human resources and line management, because it is only through working together that these often difficult and intractable issues can be dealt with effectively.

The late Barry Holt championed the management of psychosocial risks for many years in his role as IIRSM Policy Director, and the Institute will continue to keep members informed and educated on the subject by working with industry and collaborating with initiatives such as the Health in Construction Leadership Group to build on this.

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