It is important for rail companies to adopt an organisational approach to preventing work-related stress, including use of the HSE management standards approach or similar as a framework for stress risk assessment.
Although many rail companies have effective arrangements for supporting individuals who have suffered stress or trauma in the workplace, this reactive approach is only part of the solution. In many cases a key element is missing: preventing harmful levels of stress developing by means of a systematic risk assessment to identify changes to the organisation and/or the job design, rather than to the individual. This is the main area where we believe that many rail employers could do more.
In order to meet legal duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 rail employers need to assess and reduce the risk of harmful levels of workplace stress occurring. This may require preventive action at an organisational level, for example by changes to job design, task allocation, training, and supervision. Excellent employers will go beyond this legal compliance to demonstrate best practice by also providing interventions focused on supporting the individual, for example by building individual resilience to stress, and by supporting recovery and rehabilitation. Although they are not required by health and safety law, interventions involving support for individuals and reasonable adjustments on return to work may help rail employers to meet duties under civil law, particularly the Equality Act 2010.
There are established approaches and guidance to help employers meet the legal duty on preventing work-related stress. The HSE management standards provide a well-tested, step by step approach to risk assessment for work-related stress at an organisational level. As it is aimed at the whole organisation rather than an individual, more employees can benefit from any actions taken, with potential for gains in efficiency and performance across the business. RSSB guidance recognises that using the management standards to improve job design can also drive better employee engagement.
Use of the management standards approach is not required by law, but it can help in demonstrating a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. There are other toolkits which take a similar approach to identifying the underlying causes of work stress at an organisational level, which rail employers might also choose to use.
Managers, HR professionals, and employees all have key roles in delivering a preventive approach to stress management, but need to work together to maximise the positive effects for worker health, as well as financial and productivity gains. Our position paper sets out in more detail how we will work with the industry to promote a comprehensive approach to managing workplace stress, with priority on assessing and preventing stress at an organisational level, supported by good practice which focuses on supporting the individual.