Mig Burgess Walsh on ABTT's Work Related Stress Risk Assessments Guidance

The Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) launched Guidance Note. W2: Mental health and well-being in the workplace - A practical guide to conducting Stress Risk Assessments and creating well-being policies in November 2022

The Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) launched Guidance Note W2: Mental health and well-being in the workplace - A practical guide to conducting Stress Risk Assessments and creating well-being policies in November 2022.

GSA's Senior Lecturer and ABTT's Co-Chair, Mig Burgess Walsh shared her thoughts with us on why it is crucial to risk assess for stress at work and how the Guidance Notes can help.

Excerpt from Mig's blog entry:

"When beginning the process of compiling this body of work I was amazed by the various responses I had.  Most people don’t have formal risk assessments on work related stress.  Some people were interested and were keen to see the work I produce in this area, with a view to taking it up.  Others were defensive, quick to tell me they don’t need to assess work related stress; they defended and quoted the many polices they have that are addressing this issue.

My aim was to take the Working Minds campaign from the HSE [1], with a host of advice and recommendations on stress in the workplace and make it more palatable and easier to digest for people that work in our industry.  In the hope that doing this would make people more inclined to begin to tackle this much needed work to reduce stress backstage and, on our shows, and live events. 

Just to be clear it’s not me asking you to access work related stress, it’s the law, and recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work in the same way we protect against safety issues.  It’s important to access the risk for stress in the same way we would for slips, trips and falls.  I get many phone calls from people wanting my advice on mental health and well-being issues at work, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that these issues are on the rise in our post-COVID landscape. Just take a look around your workplace and you will probably already see the effects of being short staffed, not being able to retain staff or find casuals for shows.  All huge factors that contribute towards work related stress for staff on the front line trying to navigate these difficult working conditions.  We all can recite a story of a work colleague that is finding it tough.  We mitigate against safety risks to keep our employee’s safe but also to protect our business from legal action.  With stress and mental health issues in the workplace on the rise, I can only see it being a matter of time before someone finds the strength and resolve to take one of these issues to a dispute.  Have you done all you can to prove that you have considered the risks and taken action to reduce the hazards?  It’s time to put “Health” on a par with “Safety” in our planning and provision in the workplace. 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 quite clearly states: 'It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.'[2]   

We all know the challenges and workloads we have post covid.  Most places are looking for staff and our industry has never been so busy.  Now has never been a more relevant time to invest some thoughts into risk assessing the greatest asset we have in producing theatre and live events – the people that do it.  It’s simply not ok to deny the problems your company might be facing, it’s not ok to say that you don’t have any.  It is ok though to feel you don’t know where to start.  I understand how daunting the job of tackling this is.  Stress is subjective there isn’t a number you can assign to risk for this that applies to everyone.  Everyone’s resilience and tolerance of managing stress is different and for that reason we might want to avoid the process of assessing the risk of stress in the workplace. 

Believe it or not most places already have positive policies that contribute to reducing stress and promoting well-being, but when was the last time you looked that those policies? Are they communicated and actioned well?  Do they need revising?  What about taking the time to consider any new initiates you could introduce to improve provision for reducing stress in the workplace?  We are encouraged to revisit our risk assessments annually; when did you last prioritise looking at your policies and risk assessments aimed at looking after the marvellous human beings that keep your business up and running and making profit?  When I say human beings, I mean EVERYONE, including the senior managers that all too often are burdened with the task of creating risk assessments and developing policies.  What do you have in place to support your line managers, the people that are responsible for managing others? Benefits of a happy healthily workforce are well documented:  productivity, innovation, retention and loyalty are but a few.  The evidence that we NEED to prioritise taking the time to do more work to access and reduce the risk of work-related stress cannot be denied.  I would urge you as a company and business to allow time and thoughts to develop your plans to make provisions for creating a working environment for your human beings that is happy, healthy and stress-free one."

[1] https://migburgess.wordpress.com/2022/11/10/guidance-note-w2-work-related-stress-risk-assessments/

[2] Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 s 2(1)

This is the second in the ABTT’s  “W” series of Guidance Notes which deal with legal duties and best practice for ensuring the welfare of all workers. Guidance Note W2 was launched to coincide with International Stress Awareness Week 7-11 November 2022. Find out more on ABTT’s website: https://www.abtt.org.uk/abtt-launches-2nd-guidance-note-on-mental-health-well-being/

ABTT Guidance Note W2: Mental Health & Well-being in the workplace – A Practical guide to conducting Stress Risk assessments and developing well-being policies Can be downloaded here: – https://www.abtt.org.uk/product/guidance-note-w2/

You can download a blank template to begin conducting your risk assessments: ABTT Guidance Note W2: Stress Risk Assessment Template: Guidance Note W2 – Stress Risk Assessment Template