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  • Writer's pictureJames Fairview

Workplace Mental Health Reporting - A Social Justice Travesty

Why does the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) operate such a different reporting policy for mental health incidents compared to physical health incidents?

In terms of physical health, in the UK, it is a legal requirement for employers to report specified injuries and illnesses to the HSE, along with any injury that prevents an employee from undertaking their normal range of duties for seven consecutive days or more.

By comparison, the HSE does not require employers to report any type of mental health incident, no matter how the incident was caused or how severe its effects.

An employee can be absent with, say, work-related stress or because of the adverse mental health effects of bullying at work, for weeks, months or even years on end. They may be suicidal, or even actually commit suicide, yet the HSE does not require the employer to report the incident. The employer can be the sole cause of the mental health issue and a doctor's certificate may even confirm the mental health issue and its cause, yet still the HSE does not require the employer to report.

Employers can cause mental harm, largely with impunity. Employees cannot rely on a regulator for mental health protection. The UK Government and their enforcer are simply not interested.

If an employee is so minded (and assuming they are fit and able, given they have suffered mental harm), they will have to hold their employer to account for causing mental harm through the employer’s grievance procedure. If this approach fails, the employee’s only other option is to take the case to court. The employee will have to make their own case, or find somebody to make it for them, and bring the case to court at their own expense. Employees are on their own. They will not find a ‘white-knight’ regulator protecting them from their ‘dragon’ of an employer.

The difference in the HSE’s reporting requirements for physical and mental health, along with the lack of protection the HSE provides employees, is a social justice travesty.

In an era when mental health awareness is at its height, when workplace mental health is known to be deteriorating, and when the HSE itself reports 600,000 cases of mental ill-health a year, why is the HSE not enforcing the law, enforcing its own policies and upholding its own mission: to prevent death, injury and ill-health in Great Britain's workplaces - by becoming part of the solution? How is standing back and doing nothing preventing employees from suffering mental harm? How is standing back and doing nothing becoming part of the solution? At a time when employees need the HSE’s support, the HSE is nowhere to be found.

The HSE has issued a few platitudes: a stress management policy, stress management standards, and a reporting procedure for mass stress; a token response to the 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review. But is the HSE actually regulating workplace mental health? Is the HSE actually protecting employees? Is the HSE actually holding employers to account for failing to comply with workplace mental health law?

“No data available” is its answer to a Freedom of Information Request relating to how many sanctions and fines the HSE has issued for mental health breaches. Is “no data available” a euphemism for ‘zero’? The HSE's response tells employees all they need to know about the HSE’s attitude towards workplace mental health regulation.

To make matters worse, the HSE does not simply say employers need not bother managing mental health; the HSE makes a claim but doesn’t stand by it. The HSE says employers have a legal duty to manage mental health, but then it fails to ensure they do. The HSE says one thing and does another. How have the HSE got away with this? Who at the Department for Work and Pensions is allowing this travesty to continue?

Employers have a legal duty to manage the mental health of their employees. But until the UK Government and the HSE actually ensure they do, this social justice travesty will continue. Employees will continue to fall victim to incompetent and unscrupulous employers, who can largely mismanage mental health with impunity, as no regulator will hold them to account.

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