Employers obligations to manage the impact of stress under the H & S Act

Lynn Brayblog

Mandy Poll wrote this great article outlining the obligations of NZ employers under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (H & S Act) when it was amended in 2002. http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=201392125.

The 2002 amendment to the H & S Act clarified an employer’s duty to manage the impact of work related stress on their employees. Under this legislation, employers are required to monitor the work environment to ensure that any hazard, including stress, does not cause employees physical or psychological harm. The standard of care required is to take ‘all practical steps’ to avoid harm occurring and requires that an employer have systems in place to deal with a situation should it arise; and like any hazard, seek to eliminate, isolate or minimise its impact where possible.

Employers can take a proactive approach to stress management by reviewing current work design, and ensuring that their employees have the ability and resources necessary to carry out their job effectively. If necessary introduce work style changes that will give them the opportunity to refocus their energies, encourage that they learn how to prioritise their workloads, and empower them so that they have a sense of control over what they are doing. Proactive stress management strategies also include being aware of the warning signs of undue stress in employees. There are many symptoms not least of which is fatigue, trouble concentrating, social withdrawal or irritability, muscle tension, headaches or anxious behaviours.

Some simple steps that employers can take to minimise their employee’s exposure to stress are to keep the lines of communication open, keep staff informed and where possible consult with your team on proposed changes. Should you suspect a team member is stressed, initiate a meaningful conversation and listen without judgement. Encourage employees to seek support from others and promote exercise, as this releases dopamine and endorphins the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters which play a key role in mitigating the impact of stress. Encourage short breaks and regular food intake to stabilise blood sugar and maintain energy levels throughout the day.

Safeguard the productivity, performance and effectiveness of your business by recognising the early warning signs of stress and acting quickly. Remember that emotions are contagious – ensure that stressed staff are supported effectively to retain a positive work environment for everyone.