Stress Risk Assessment
Author: Wendy Beddows, Guest Blogger from Employee Health and Wellbeing at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
Date: 13th April 2021
If you have happy healthy staff you’re more likely to have happy pupils and better outcomes. Makes sense then doesn’t it to regularly check in with your people to ensure you have an understanding of how your staff are feeling and develop action plans around any pressures their facing in school.
However, asking staff how they’re doing isn’t simply good practice, it’s actually a legal duty.
All Employers have a specific duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to undertake risk assessments that seek to identify, and eliminate or reduce, risks to their employees’ health, safety and welfare. Stress is one of the risks to health, safety and welfare that must be assessed.
Doing something about stress in schools though may seem daunting, after all, even in normal times schools are busy places, and stress is undoubtedly more difficult to tackle than, say, a straightforward slip/trip hazard.
The process doesn’t have to be onerous though and by undertaking a stress risk assessment, simply asking your staff how they feel and involving them in providing solutions - you will meet your legal obligations without creating a huge bureaucratic burden.
While every job brings its own demands and pressures, people’s ability to deal with pressure is not limitless. The most resilient of us may be able to bounce back during times of adversity, this is just “life” however, sustained excessive pressure can cause stress, which is harmful. As a school you will be dealing with unprecedented added demands due to the pandemic and so a mechanism for routinely giving people an opportunity to air their views will help get to the root cause of any potential stressors and offer opportunities to nip things in the bud.
Staff will also have experienced and will still be being affected by a range of potentially distressing personal circumstances over the past year, and although those circumstances weren’t brought about by work, anxieties about family and home life will affect employee’s performance at work.
The legal duty is one thing but in the spirit of having a humane approach to the overall wellbeing of your most valued asset it is therefore more important than ever that workplaces do all that is possible to protect staff and also give them opportunities to look after themselves by providing information and resources to help them cope with personal issues.
Where to begin?
With all this in mind the starting point is to take a measure of the current state of play and a stress risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause staff to suffer from work-related stress.
This can be done routinely as a group of staff using a method that will encourage as many people as possible to respond honestly. So, an anonymised survey might be one method for example. Analysing the responses will provide you with the evidence then to consider whether or not you are doing enough to protect staff, or whether more could be done to prevent harm.
Depending on the numbers of staff in school, it may be worth considering asking whether respondents are a teacher or in a support role as the two may experience school life differently in terms of the pressures. Care would have to be taken with this approach in smaller schools with fewer staff so as not to hinder responses due to people’s fears of being identified.
Ensure enough time is provided for everyone to have an opportunity to respond and do consider timing in terms of, start/end of term and so on. You may wish to get the support of union representatives to help boost response rates.
Sharing the findings with staff and getting them involved in how to resolve issues will help with engagement and foster team spirit. Do ensure action is taken on the findings but also remember you don’t have to tackle everything at once! A plan of intended action will be enough to demonstrate you value your staff and take on board their views and opinions.
Tools, resources and support:
The HSE Stress Management Standards
The HSE Stress Management Standards system is a voluntary system which is a useful tool for employers in understanding how to carry out a stress risk assessment. The standards identify six key risk factors, or ‘stressors’, which have been identified as causes of work-related stress.
If school staff can cope with the demands of their job, understand their role, have a say in how they work, feel supported by management and have positive working relationships, including in times of change, they are unlikely to suffer from work-related stress. These factors should be considered on a whole school basis, rather than relating to individuals.
Here is a link for you to read more about the Stress Management Standards.
Individual Stress Management Action Plans
We are all individuals with times in our lives when we’re more resilient than others. What causes stress for one person may not necessarily be a source of stress for everyone. With the events of the past year what was tolerable for most under usual circumstances may now be just too much.
It is a manger's responsibility to develop a stress management action plan with individual employees who are struggling. Regular opportunies to talk is key openly about our feelings is key, however there will be times when a more formal management action under duty of care is necessary. This will either be when:
The aim of completing a stress management action plan is to understand, what the employee perceives as stressors and to consider actions to support the employee's well-being. Completing the stress management action plan will ensure that you as the manager have proactively addressed work related stress.
For further advice and support please contact the Resolution Coordinator based within the Employee Health and Wellbeing Team on 01274 431141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Employee Health and Wellbeing Team
If you have any concerns regarding a staff members health at work, please contact email@example.com
For further information on the services provided and other external sources of employee support please follow this link.
For advice, information and support on Risk Assessment please contact the Occupational Safety team.
Talking Toolkit from the HSE
This is a really helpful tool from the HSE that provides guidance on how to start the conversation with employees based on the HSE Stress Management Standards.
This is a UK charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the entire education workforce. Find out about what they do and how this could help you by following this link.