Mental health in the UK has been declining immeasureably. A dark, gloomy everlasting January was extra-ordinarily tough for many, uncertainty has become a way of life.
Every Employer has a duty is to ensure a safe work place and protect the health and safety and welfare of all employees. 2020 saw a majority of Employees working from home as a necessity. The urgency of Covid-19 pandemic resulted in emergency measures resulting in little notice to transfer the workplace to home, instances of basic equipment (e.g. chair, desk, table) being unavailable together with the impact on mental health is slowly unravelling but with doubt is substantial.
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 states ‘it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the Health and Safety and welfare at work of all the employees’. Employers with 5 employees’ or more MUST have written Health and Safety Policies. It is both a legal requirement and the cornerstone to Health and Safety within the workplace. By improving conditions Employers can manage mental health at work.
Every person’s lockdown landscape varies between working alongside children requiring home-schooling (effectively two roles carried out at once by single parent families) to individuals living alone becoming isolated. The culture of ‘person to person’ interaction of a physical workplace has been removed for months at a time. Without doubt, the deterioration of mental health nationally in addition to the physical deaths is another significant symptom of Covid19.
As lockdown eases decisions will need to be managed in consultation with staff as employee’s lifestyles will be a challenge – some people have now experienced more of a work-life balance (rather than working long days in the office 5 days a week) whereas others may have found they work longer hours form home and find ‘switching off’ hard.
Employers will need to manage expectations and consider alternative work patterns and consult extensively with staff. Others require set hours and a structured working day to embrace the office environment and the benefit of social aspects and sense of inclusion; Compared to the protection of physical health (requiring risk assessments for potential physical health issues) mental health has continuously had less support but remains a very real issue that can be detrimental to both the workplace and productivity.
Notably, stress is commonly linked to the workplace. Mental health support can be offered by way of enforced rest breaks. Some instances in lockdown saw zoom meetings run all morning and/or afternoon with no opportunity for comfort breaks ) back to back meetings giving no opportunity to eat).
There is no strict guidelines outlining what acting 'reasonably' entails, unlike physical health and safety guidelines that give clear direction for Risk Assessments i.e sufficient ventilation, prevention from falling' etc.
Mental Health not only affects issues at work, the workplace can exacerbate them. Whilst certain occupations or workplaces aren't 'legally' linked to increased mental health issues (unlike construction, which is identified as particularly dangerous to physical health), there some employees claim high rates of anxiety, stress and depression is due to their workplace stress.
Stress is a reaction to events or experiences in a combination of someone’s home or workplace or both. During the pandemic, the lack of distinct separation between home and work environment was a challenge for many and some became severely isolated. Those living alone whose depends upon their work environment to interact with others struggled significantly.
Unfortunately, without physical interaction those who would have been identified as struggling by simple observance went unnoticed. Others found pressures to perform on a screen/camera caused stress and sustained exposure to technology impacted sleep and well-being. Some mental health problems can have a single cause outside work, e.g. bereavement, divorce, medical condition or family history. Employers can manage and prevent stress by supporting the Employee and/or improving work conditions.
If an Employee’s condition substantially affects their day to day life lasting a year (or likely to last more), the Employer may have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2020. Failure to do so can result in significant compensation being claimed. A Health and Safety Policy Statement is how an organisation handles all Health and Safety issues. The Policy must include a Policy Statement (sometimes known as ‘Statement of Intent’) which is an organisation’s overall philosophy setting out aims and goals. The effectiveness of the Policy depends upon the involvement and commitment of staff.
A provision of Health and Safety at Work is to provide ongoing training to ensure that employees at all levels are: -
● Competent to carry out their duties, from operating specialist tools, plant and work equipment to providing support for mental health challenges.;
● Aware of their own personal Health and Safety responsibilities. Decisions relating to on-going training of Employees should be regularly reviewed. Those with everyday responsibilities for Health and Safety must identify and implement Health and Safety training needs, with records kept on Employee’s individual files.
Decisions relating to on-going training of Employees should be regularly reviewed. Those with everyday responsibilities for Health and Safety must identify and implement Health and Safety training needs, with records kept on Employee’s individual files.
Find out more about Natasha Jones go to www.itsmental.co.uk/Natasha-jones