HSE orders Liverpool Hope to improve on stress

July 16, 2009

Liverpool Hope University has been served with an improvement notice by the Health and Safety Executive for failing to properly assess the risk of stress to its staff.

An HSE inspector visited the university last year after complaints of stress from campus unions.

After the visit, the inspector asked the university to conduct a corporate risk assessment.

Having examined the assessment, the inspector wrote to Gerald Pillay, the university's vice-chancellor, earlier this year, to say that managers had failed to address the issue sufficiently.

The notice orders the university to consult staff to establish which factors were perceived as causing stress, and to share the findings of the assessment.

It says: "You have failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of your employees from exposure to work-related stressors for the purpose of identifying and implementing any required preventive and protective measures."

A University and College Union representative at the university said: "Stress is a major issue for academic staff at Hope. The university has a stress steering group on which UCU is represented, and we see signs of some willingness to introduce some improvements such as staff workshop days on handling stress."

But the representative added: "We need to be confident that good policies will turn into good practice. What does concern us is that while the university is developing policies to help combat undue stress, it is simultaneously developing policies and practices which only add to it."

The union claims that staff have been caused particular stress by a policy requiring them to spend 35 hours a week on campus unless they obtain formal permission to work off site.

It has also criticised a new student teaching evaluation system. Students fill in an online questionnaire that asks whether they agree or disagree with such statements as: "The teaching team/tutor was generally knowledgeable about the subject." The union opposed the initiative.

A Hope spokesman said: "The level of stress related to work is extremely low at this university. Even before the notice we had been working with the HSE and unions to ensure we were assessing the risks appropriately."

The university has until December to comply with the improvement notice.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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