Health and safety reps should play pivotal role in combatting illness at work, says Prospect

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Employers must work more closely with trade unions to counter the increase in work-related stress during recession,  Prospect urged today.

The union expressed dismay at today’s findings by the Society of Occupational Medicine that work-related stress increases by 40% during recession. Researchers compared two large-scale surveys of civil servants in Northern Ireland – one in 2005 before the recession began and the second in 2009, while the economy was severely hit.

Health and safety officer Sarah Page said: “When workers face reduced job security and an increased workload it is no surprise that depression and anxiety increase, along with absences from work. People feel afraid, uncertain, less supported by managers, and less in control of their lives.” Previous studies of civil servants had shown that that if organisational changes occur without consulting and involving the workforce, the effects on individuals are far more damaging.

“This is an issue where government, employers and unions can make a difference by working together. Employers have a duty to ensure workers’ health, safety and welfare at work, and that includes mental health. It shouldn’t be about trying to mop up the mess when it’s too late, but about introducing preventive measures and support networks. People also need to feel they are being treated fairly, and to be told upfront what is going on.

“Involving union health and safety reps is pivotal,” said Page. “They can ensure that workers’ rights to consultation and information are upheld and press for open and fair procedures. They can also point members in the direction of support services at times of need.”

Page said Prospect has a number of initiatives to support members in recession, including a new WorkTime YourTime campaign and website –  Career Plus workshops to support those facing redundancy; and a dedicated area of its website focusing on stress.


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