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25th March 2015

Stress risk assessment

Looking to yellow remindersIn this article we will review some of the areas to cover when undertaking a stress risk assessment. The employer has a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work; this includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees. Employers need to identify stressors within the workplace and ensure that risk assessments have been carried out, are monitored regularly, and any recommendations are being implemented.

Cost to the UK

Stress is a leading cause of illness at work and ultimately costs the UK financially. The annual cost of sickness absence to UK businesses is nearly £29 billion per annum, which is a rise of £1 billion over the last two years according to a study conducted by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). The study shows that the increase is the result of average sickness absence rising to 9.1 days per employee – up five per cent since 2011. Reducing stress-related sickness absence by as little as 10 per cent would save UK businesses up to £1 billion every year.


The legislation that covers the requirement to carry out risk assessments is:

1. Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 covers duties of person with control of premises
Section 4 (3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 sets out the general duties of persons concerned with premises to persons other than their employees.

2. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: Regulation 3 states that every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of -
- the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
- the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.

Stress risk assessment

The employer should ensure the stress risk assessment approach is suitable and sufficient for the work environment and the personnel within the workplace.

The HSE has produced Management Standards with six key areas of work design that cover the primary sources of stress at work. These are:

  1. Demands – this includes issues such as work patterns, workload, and the work environment.
  2. Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.#
  3. Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  4. Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  5. Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
  6. Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

HSE five step risk assessment process

The stress risk assessment will need to follow the HSE five step process:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. Record your significant findings
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

The stress risk assessment should review the following:

Initially, understand the historical background the triggers that caused the stress to begin. Review the external stressors that may have played a role and impacted on the individual, such as illness or home-related issues.

  1. Demands - work overload or under-load, deadlines for workload, inadequate staffing, hours, and patterns of work and stressors from the physical work environment.
  2. Control - individual involvement, pace and pattern of work, balance of demands of work and home.
  3. Support - adequate training for role, return to work system in place, sickness and absence management.
  4. Relationships - low team spirit, individual feels bullied, harassed or victimised. Individual feels there is no mechanism exists to enable them to raise issues.
  5. Role - role conflict, unclear lines of accountability and responsibility, lack of communication and consultation.
  6. Change - fears about job security, not enough time allowed to implement change, inexperience/fear of new technology, lack of skills for new tasks.


  • A stress risk assessment must be undertaken by a competent person
  • It is confidential
  • To maintain confidentiality, conduct the stress risk assessment in a room without other colleagues or interruptions
  • Give the person adequate time to communicate and listen
  • Record and close all actions within a suitable agreed timeframe
  • Review the stress risk assessment at planned intervals or when there are significant changes

QCS Policies

There are many areas to review when a stress risk assessment is undertaken. QCS has guidance and policies to help you conduct an assessment.


HSE – Management Standards

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Management of Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2006

Stress Management Society – About Workplace Stress

Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH – QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor

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