Cardiff to take part in audit of stress

April 1, 2005

Government health and safety watchdogs are to carry out a "stress audit" across the higher education sector.

The Health and Safety Executive said this week that over the next 18 months it will target 20 organisations in the education sector to monitor stress levels and help implement new management standards.

The executive said it was in the process of identifying the 20 institutions, which will include both schools and universities, but Cardiff University confirmed it had volunteered to take part. At least six universities have been earmarked for audit.

The HSE is stepping up its drive to treat stress as a serious health and safety issue, after launching stress management standards in November last year.

A spokesman for the executive said it was targeting the education sector as one of five priority areas "identified on the basis of incidence and prevalence of work-related stress", including financial services and the health sector.

A spokesperson for Cardiff said: "The Health and Safety Executive is running a stress management programme and is approaching various sectors to invite organisations to participate.

"As a major employer in Cardiff, the university has volunteered to take part in the programme in order to identify any potential to improve its management standards for identifying and resolving workplace stress.

"An audit in relation to workplace stress will be undertaken in April when a randomly selected group of staff will be sent questionnaires."

News of the audit came as the HSE announced a separate investigation of complaints from staff about stress levels at Cardiff.

The executive refused to give details of its Cardiff inquiry but if breaches of health and safety at work regulations were found, the HSE could invoke its legal powers to take enforcement action or launch a criminal prosecution.

Cardiff said that the general HSE study was not linked to the specific complaint about stress. He said there was no suggestion that stress was more of an issue among Cardiff's 5,200 staff than at any other large university.

The HSE said its approach to handling workplace stress was not "enforcement-led", as it preferred to work cooperatively with employers. It said it had only invoked its legal powers to issue enforcement action a "handful" of times, none of them in the higher education sector.

Breaches were uncovered for the first time in the sector last year at De Montfort University. The HSE stopped short of legal action, but demanded urgent reforms.

But stress expert Gail Kinman of Luton University said that legal action in the university sector was all but inevitable.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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