Economic downturn over the last few years has given rise to frequent news reports of major high street brands going into administration. The upheaval to their respective workforces are likely to echo the experience of the countless number of other employees at smaller, less well known companies around the UK who have been forced into accepting less favourable working conditions.
When staff have to be ‘laid off’, it’s often those lucky enough to retain their jobs who may be working much longer hours, perhaps on reduced pay. Workloads increase and stress rises, which can often lead to the possibility of an accident or injury occurring (especially in transport / haulier industries) or even harm to long term health. As a result of harder working conditions injury claims for work related stress become more noticeable.
Working hours in the UK have been steadily rising for decades and concern has frequently been raised. In May 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that British workers, on average, clocked up 1,647 hours per year, ahead of the Germans at 1,408 hours. However, a new survey has found just in the last three years alone, nearly 6 in 10 workers say their job demands have “expanded significantly” and over a third claim they are “suffering under excessive pressure.”
Undoubtedly, the recession is taking its toll in several ways. The new survey also found that over a quarter of workers stated that as a result of feeling pressure to display job commitment (with fear of redundancy), they had not taken their full annual leave entitlements since 2009.
Despite the added hardships the economic climate has exerted upon many small and mid-sized businesses, employers still have a duty of care to their workforce. While at their place of work, employees have a right to expect their mental, physical and emotional health to be valued and safeguarded.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, employers have an obligation to make their control measures based upon the assessment of the nature and scale of risks to health and safety in a workplace.
If there is a breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a claim for damages for suffering injury or illness may arise. Similarly, an industrial or personal injury brought about by negligence. There is an implied duty on the employer to, “protect an employee from mental injury or illness such as the foreseeable risk of depression or breakdown from excessive work time, for example, or general stress at work.”