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HSE’s Talking Toolkit: Preventing Work-related Stress in Construction

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By Chris Baranowski & Matthew Atwell


Published 19 May 2021


In the construction industry, workplace stress (which includes stress, depression and anxiety) is the second biggest cause of work-related ill health with an estimated 21,000 work-related cases reported last year. Job insecurity, long hours, time away from families and demanding workloads can all be contributing factors. The pandemic has placed even greater pressure on those working in the industry, and in an attempt to help tackle the issue, the HSE have worked with industry partners to develop the ‘Talking Toolkit’ which is a guide to prevent work-related stress in construction.

Although the Talking Toolkit is primarily aimed at small and medium sized businesses with a regular workforce the HSE are encouraging it to be used across the whole industry. The Talking Toolkit supports businesses in managing the risks to their employees’ mental health by taking action and starting conversations as an important first step in preventing work-related stress. The toolkit provides a series of templates with examples of questions to aide these discussions. The templates cover the following themes: demands; control; support; relationships; role; and change.

By way of example, in relation to ‘demands’ the toolkit suggests that an employee should feel that:

  • They can cope with the demands of their job.
  • They are provided with achievable demands in relation to the hours that they work.
  • Their skills are matched to the demands of their job.
  • Any concerns about their work environment are listened to and addressed.

The Talking Toolkit provides tips to help businesses with facilitating these conversations and recommends that the conversations should focus on one topic at a time and that the solutions and actions should be collaborative and agreed together.

Although work-related stress is a challenging enforcement issue for the HSE, it remains an area that the HSE continues to focus its attention on. As such, the Talking Toolkit offers a practical solution to support businesses with managing work-related stress, and its template format provides a way for organisations to demonstrate that they have taken the first steps towards discharging their obligation to their employees in relation to their mental health.

In addition to the other benefits of the Talking Toolkit, such as helping to create a more engaged workforce and potentially boosting productivity by a more proactive approach to well-being, such an approach should also reduce the risks of any enforcement action being taken by the HSE.

It should also improve the claims defensibility of civil claims. However this does depend upon line managers listening to what is being said and taking  steps that are reasonable in the circumstances having regards to the resources available.

Certainly to do nothing is unlikely to represent a sensible long term strategy, with increasing mental health awareness providing that employees are more likely to speak out than ever before, such that it makes sense to manage and evidence those conversations. Employers should be mindful that relatively recent court decisions such as in “Bailey v Devon Partnership NHS Trust (2014)” have already emphasized increasing expectations upon employers in respect of what they should foresee and take action in respect of, as a consequence of the increasing knowledge of and guidance available in respect of stress at work and therefore ignoring the toolkit in the absence of an alternative robust system to manage stress in the workplace would be unwise.

A link to the Talking Toolkit can be found here.

DAC Beachcroft apply a multi-disciplinary approach to issues arising from mental well-being, to ensure clients adopt best practice whenever there are legal developments or a specific event arises, whether that is a return to work following psychiatric illness, grievance or other incident at work.

We ensure that “lessons learned” and remedial measures are effectively shared to help minimise the risks of claims and HSE enforcement action as well as avoiding such issues impacting on productivity and profitability.

If you have any questions about the toolkit, the HSE’s approach to stress in the workplace or defensibility arising out of civil claims please get in touch with one of our key contacts.

We host regular webinars on key topics in the industry. Please click here if you are interested in registering for any of our webinars.