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Robert Sneddon – Mental health in the workplace

Robert Sneddon
12th May 2017


Mental Health Awareness week aims to bring more focus to spreading the message about tackling mental health issues. It’s a welcome initiative, which we support. But it’s what happens after this week that will be crucial. For Community, mental health will remain on our agenda.

With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health issues each year, it surprises me that workplaces and local communities are not properly equipped to deal with this. It is common knowledge that poor mental health places a heavy strain on our economy, it accounts for 18% of all NHS spending; it puts additional pressure on our incredible volunteer and charity sectors, with people using services such as Samaritans increasing by 58,000 year on year; and without the right support poor mental health can damage families and local communities, with 28% of reported suicide cases being directly caused by mistreatment of mental health.

Outside of the warm words from government to do more about mental health, there are still opportunities for us to make a real difference.

Community has a proven track record of working constructively with employers to reach agreements beneficial to workers and business in regards to pay and terms & conditions, but not as widely recognised is the work we do to tackle mental health.

We have worked with Tata Steel for many years to support the National Joint Safety, Health & Environment Forum (‘SHEF’) TU Safety Reps training scheme, which trains and up-skills our members and this has been supplemented with the addition of training mental health first aiders, who have the ability to identify and consult management on any potential mental health issues that could arise on the shop floor.

In 2016 we completed a major company wide (UK) programme on Mental Health with Tata Steel UK. This involved the development of a Mental Health Policy, Code of Practice and training programmes for the workforce, managers, Human Resources and Occupational Health. On –line awareness raising modules and face to face training materials for those involved with counselling and rehabilitation and return to work. The latest figures from the National Trade Union Joint Safety, Health and Environment Forum(SHEF) show 7199 people had completed module1, 4310 completed module 2 and 386 people had completed module 3.

Within our Footwear, Leather, Tanning and Textiles Industry Health and Safety Committee we have produced guidance notes on occupational health and the many forms that it can take. The 2016 annual industry Health and Safety Conference, attended by Community Safety Reps addressed the issue with a number of interactive sessions on the subject, including Mental Health First Aid. The work is continuing this year with guidance on work-related stress.

The Conference also received presentations from 2 local groups from Northampton, First for Well-being and the Back and Body Clinic. This was so successful that we are now rolling this out into other workplaces in which we are recognized, First for Well-being at XPO and Loakes Shoemakers working together with Tata Occupational Health Services in Corby

Our various forward thinking approaches to tackling mental health have created the opportunity for employers to speak to each other and share best practices, with footwear employers in Northampton working with Tata Steel to adopt similar training opportunities for its workers locally and nationally. We’re also making links across our sectors, applying the lessons we’ve learnt in steel or footwear to the new workplaces we’re organising like XPO.

Our in –house Community Health and Safety reps training programme has also had a focus on occupational health issues for many years, including bullying and harassment, violence at work and work –related stress. These skills and many more are taught to all of our health and safety reps, so if these skills interest you contact your local regional office to find out how you could become a Community health and safety rep.

At some point in your life you may be affected by mental health, be that directly or indirectly through a colleague or loved one. It is so important that during this period of time where mental health is so topical that we work to educate as many people as possible about how widely this issue spreads, and how it affects us all, especially in the workplace. Don’t suffer in silence, speak out, or speak to Community and we can help you get the support you need at work.

Robert Sneddon is Communitys Health & Safety Officer. This article marks mental health awareness week, a week dedicated to raising awareness on the issues of mental health.