‘Management Standards’ and work-related stress in the UK: Policy background and science

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In the late 1990s, the Health and Safety Commission, as the lead authority in the UK responsible for Health and Safety at Work, conducted an extensive consultation exercise to elicit views about how work-related stress should be tackled. The Commission subsequently decided that regulation was not justified and opted for an approach with four strands. One of these was to work with stakeholders to develop clear, agreed standards of good management practice. This paper describes and discusses the rationale behind a standards-based approach that is essentially based on a method of controlling hazards. The Management Standards approach uses a taxonomy of six stressors that has evolved out of extensive research carried out on behalf of the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and in conjunction with stakeholders, and a three-phase risk assessment methodology. Further developmental work on the standards (which are to be subjected to public consultation) and associated measurement tools is described in a companion paper in this issue of Work & Stress (Cousins, Mackay, Clarke, Kelly, Kelly, & McCaig, 2004). The emphasis is on prevention towards reducing stress in the UK working population. We review current thinking on models of work stress, consider evidence linking workplace psychosocial factors and various health and organizational outcomes, and examine the effectiveness of organizational interventions. We argue that the literature supports an approach that aims to move organizational states (represented by the current situation) to more desirable ones (represented by the six Management Standards), and that this is an effective ‘population’ based approach to tackling workplace stress and promoting individual and organizational health.

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