For some workers the pressure they face in their workplace can take them to the extreme depths of despair that lead them to take their own lives as David Orr did.
The traditional view of workplace bullying includes violent conduct and discrimination, but it can also arise if an employee feels consistently singled out for criticism or blame. It is not always management who bullies a worker, but it most frequently involves an abuse of power by someone more senior. Evidence suggests there are particular problems in workplaces that are experiencing staffing cuts and increased workloads.
The UK Government is diluting health and safety regulation while cutting funding to the Health and Safety Executive. It is exacerbating the problem by declaring that particular workplaces such as shops, offices and schools are a "low health and safety risk".
These are very often the workplaces where exposure to bullying, violence and aggression, performance improvement procedures, target-related results and draconian sickness absence management policies can create environments that pose a significant danger to workers' mental health.
Even before the current Government attacks, work-related suicide seemed to be the occupational health and safety taboo. The HSE excludes suicides from work-related fatalities to be investigated, they are not investigated by the HSE and police under their protocol for work-related deaths, and fatal accident inquiry laws only apply to deaths that occur in the course of employment.
Presumably this means that if an individual takes their own life in the workplace, during working hours and leaves an indication that pressures of work led to the suicide this would be subject to an inquiry. However, if someone pulls into a secluded spot on the way home from work and takes their own life this would not.
Proactive health and safety inspection of Scottish workplaces could identify bullying, stress and other risk factors. If a serious effort is to be made to reduce work-related suicides the HSE must review its investigation criteria to include all suicide deaths where it is believed work has been a contributory factor and work-related suicides should be subject to mandatory fatal accident inquiries.
All workers should be encouraged to report bullying, harassment or excessive workloads which they believe may be harmful to their health to the HSE.
Health and safety legislation is reserved to Westminster but every Scottish employer has a duty of care to their staff, and the Scottish Parliament should examine work-related ill-health as an issue of significant public health concern.
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