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Health and safety concerns

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If you have health and safety concerns due to unsustainable pressures at work, this guidance may help you. 

Work-related stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. Stress is a health and safety issue if the stress is work-related. Your employer has a duty to ensure your health and safety at work, including your psychological well-being.

Raise any complaints and concerns regarding stress at work with your manager. Do this as soon as possible and ask for remedial action to be taken. In the interim remember to:

  • keep a record of all dates, events and symptoms suffered
  • keep a personal record of all working hours including those outside the normal place of work 
  • ensure a risk assessment has been undertaken and if not, ask for one and ensure one is done immediately 
  • follow the employer's policy on stress (if available) 
  • seek medical advice from your GP and Occupational Health and make sure that a clinical diagnosis is given in your medical certificates, rather than a description of the symptoms of stress.

It may be necessary to make a formal complaint in writing if work-related stress continues and this could include the effects of unsustainable pressures in the workplace causing stress. Also, see our advice on accidents and injuries at work and the ACAS guidance on Dealing with stress in the workplace.

Staffing levels may be a health and safety issue, particularly due to the current unsustainable pressures in the workplace.

As a registered nurse or midwife, under The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code you have a number of responsibilities to act on concerns where you believe actions or situations are putting people at potential or actual risk.

The NMC has produced a publication Raising Concerns: Guidance for Nurses and Midwives (2013).

Although health care assistants and assistant practitioners do not work under The Code, the RCN would support any health care assistant who wished to raise concerns regarding staffing levels.

Please also see the RCN Nursing Workforce Standards and if you are concerned contact us.

Under health and safety legislation employers have an obligation to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees and this includes during periods of unstainable pressures in the workplace for example, where there may be staffing shortages. In addition, legislation requires employers to assess the risk of violence towards their employees and put in place measures to reduce the risk. An effective system of risk assessment is therefore crucial. Some examples of measure that could be taken include:

  • improvements to the physical environment
  • alarms systems
  • signage
  • safe staffing levels, and
  • training for staff. 

In addition, the Assaults of Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 became law in England and Wales on 13 November 2018. The new law aims to protect emergency workers providing NHS care, including nurses and other healthcare workers, from assault in the workplace. Under the Act, individuals that attack or assault emergency workers will face longer jail terms as part of a new government crackdown. Key changes include:

  • A sentence of up to 12 months imprisonment for assault on an emergency worker
  • Courts must also consider the strongest penalties for other offences against emergency workers.

The importance of your safety is equal to that of your patients. You need support to identify and avoid working in unsafe conditions, and you need to know how to manage situations that become unsafe.

Find out more about your employers obligations in violence in the workplace and if you are a lone worker in the community, please also see our prioritising personal safety guide. If you believe that you are at risk, these guides have model letters to use and information on how to raise concerns. 

Contact us if you are concerned. 

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 Regulations (COSHH) apply to all work where people are liable to be exposed to hazardous substances. Guidance can be found on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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Page last updated - 01/07/2023