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The impact of stress on workplace safety

April is Stress Awareness Month and studies show increased stress is linked to increase in workplace accidents.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people in the UK feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation and YouGov). Research also reveals that workers experiencing high levels of stress may be more liable to commit errors in their work (whether slips, mistakes or violations) which in turn can lead to accidents.

Here is a guide revealing how stress levels impact safety and how to manage that.

Not only can stress lead to physical ill health, in a variety of forms including headaches, insomnia and more frequent colds and infections, but high-stress levels can also have negative effects on concentration, the ability to process information and also consistency of decision-making.

In 2020, EU statistics revealed that the most common cause of a non fatal accident in the workplace resulted from physical or mental stress. (Eurostat, 2020)

Unlike other health and safety issues which are largely affected by working conditions and processes, stress can be caused by factors both inside and outside the workplace, with difficulties such as bereavement, financial worries or divorce all causing problems.

The good news is that there are measures and lots of advice on how to identify and manage the impact of stress on workplace safety.

Spotting the signs

Having good processes in place to identify the signs that someone is stressed in the workplace is an important first step.

As well as ensuring line managers are trained and have good processes in place to assess the mental wellbeing of staff, through appraisals and regular informal contact, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) point out there are helpful things that health and safety officers in a company can do to identify situations where stress can impact workplace safety.

One measure that can be put into place is for those carrying out risk assessments to identify jobs, particularly those associated with high consequence risks, where high levels of human reliability are fundamental to safety. Line managers of individuals in these roles should certainly ensure that their staff are well supported with regular checks on wellbeing and have good access to resources to manage stress.

Another measure that is helpful is for safety officers to regularly review accident and "near miss" trends and to identify if stress might be a factor in these cases.

RoSPA also advise that accident investigations and reports should also consider the possible contribution of stress (both occupational and non-occupational) when investigating the causes of individual incidents.


Line managers should, as a matter of course have good training on how to deal with stress which includes

  • Identifying signs of stress

  • Assessing the level of stress

  • Management of workplace stress and stressors

  • How to identify and address the safety impacts that stress might have on workplace safety.

Another vital issue in workplace training and culture is that staff must feel confident that if they report that they are experiencing stress and need any adjustments to their work for safety reasons, this will not lead to unfair discrimination. Fear of losing a job or hours can be a major motive for staff to hide signs of stress with high risk consequences.

To address this, RoSPA advise that it is important that appropriate job adaptations to support stressed workers undertaking safety critical work should always be considered as an option before simply replacing them (even temporarily), recognising that their recovery may be assisted by remaining at work carrying out their normal duties.

Another measure that can be highly beneficial is to have a Mental Health First Aider in every team as well as a more traditional First Aid officer. You can find out more about Mental Health First Aid training at

Support & Resources

Having good resources to help staff manage stress is important. Organisations need to have arrangements in place to counsel support, and rehabilitate staff who have suffered mental trauma as a result of accident involvement, whether as a casualty or a witness.

It can also be helpful to have signposting for external organisations who can help staff to deal with stress confidentially.

Another option many companies are finding useful are Employee Assistance Programs. These are helplines that companies can sign up to so that employees have access to trained counsellors and doctors to support with any personal issues or concerns that might cause stress and anxiety. You can find out more at the EAP Association.

Helpful resources include:

Free stress guides and tests from the Stress Management Society

An employees guide to coping with stress at work from the HSE

Providing helpful PPE

Although we normally associate PPE with protecting from physical hazards, some PPE can also help staff to cope with staff.

Access to ear defenders or ear plugs, for example can help to reduce the stress caused by constant or frequent exposure to low levels of noise as well as being used by workers who are in high noise level areas.

These Moldex Rocket ear plugs are designed for comfort and come both as standard and also detectable ear plugs which are useful for those working in the food industry. They also come in plastic cases which help to keep the PPE clean and protected.

You can see more ear protection here:

Generally having good quality PPE that fits well and is comfortable, not only improves its performance but reduces low level sensory stress which can build up if workers are too hot, or experiencing tightness or soreness, for example.

For further help and support employers and managers can see helpful guidance from the HSE here:

As always our team are happy to help discuss your needs. Contact us at or call 01726 74264.


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