Health at Work


Health at Work

Managing sickness absence and return to work

Sickness absence can have a big impact on the performance of your business and the health and well-being of your employees. Most is short-term but it can turn into long-term absence if action is not taken early enough to support their return to work.

By putting in place a policy to manage sickness absence and return to work you can minimise the effects on both your business and your workers.

Health Surveillance

Health surveillance means having a system to look for early signs of ill health caused by substances and other hazards at work. It includes keeping health records for individuals and may include medical examinations and testing of blood or urine samples, so that corrective action can be taken.

Health surveillance is not required for most workers. You must decide whether it is needed for what you do. If in doubt, e.g. if there are known health risks from the work, get advice.

Medical examinations or health surveillance are required by law for some jobs. Ask yourself whether any of your employees is at risk from:

  • Noise or vibration.
  • Solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health.
  • Asbestos, lead or work in compressed air.
  • Ionising radiations or commercial diving.

The Risks of Work-related Stress

Pressure is part of all work and helps to keep us motivated and productive. But excessive pressure can lead to stress, which undermines performance, is costly to employers, and can make people ill.

What you must do

As an employer, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 you have a ‘duty of care’ to protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees while at work. You also have to assess the risks arising from hazards at work, including work-related stress, in accordance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

An effective risk assessment approach to tackling stress should include the following:

  • Measure the current situation (using surveys and/or other techniques).
  • Have discussions with employees and their representatives.
  • Work in partnership with employees and their representatives to make practical improvements.
  • Agree and share an action plan with employees and their representatives.
  • Regularly review the situation to ensure it continues to improve.

Management Standards for Work-related Stress

HSE’s Management Standards for Work-related Stress cover six key areas of work that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity, and increased sickness absence. These are:

  • Demands – workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support – the encouragement and support provided by the organisation, managers and colleagues.
  • Relationships – working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change – how change is managed and communicated in the organisation.

The Management Standards approach provides a framework and process against which to develop an effective risk assessment, and is supported by a toolkit designed to help organisations measure and improve their performance in tackling stress.

Is stress a problem in your workplace?

There are a number of ways to identify the causes of stress in your workplace:
Use existing information to see how your organisation shapes up. Sickness n absence or staff turnover data could help, as well as employee surveys.
Conduct a stress survey of employees to find out potential problem areas as n part of an overall strategy to identify and address the sources of stress. (See HSE Stress Standards for free Stress Indicator and Analysis Tools.)
Have discussions with employees to assess what causes stress in your n workplace and identify relevant problems and solutions.

Develop Solutions to Ensure Health at Work

Continue to talk to employees to identify issues that affect them at work and discuss practical solutions. Record what you decide to do in an action plan, share it with staff and stick to it. Include a review of your risk assessment in your action plan, to check how effective your actions are.

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Health and Safety Advice