Mental ill health is the primary cause of employee long term sickness absence equating to 57% of all working days lost, or around 15.4 million lost days per year in 2017/18. In comparison non-fatal workplace injuries equated to 3.9 million lost days per year over the same period.
The Government pledged in January 2017 that ‘more needs to be done so that employers provide the support needed for employees with mental health conditions’. In November an open letter organised by Mental Health First Aid England and signed by 50 industry leaders was sent to the Prime Minister requesting that the Government upheld its manifesto pledge and to amend legislation so that workplaces are required to make provision for mental as well as physical first aid.
A few days after this letter was sent the HSE updated its First Aid Needs Assessment guidance on its website to include advice to employers on how to support employees with mental ill health issues. According to the updated guidance this support could include providing information or training for managers and employees, employing occupational health professionals, appointing mental health-trained first aiders and implementing employee support programmes.
Considering the training element Mental Health First Aid training courses are already available from a number of providers. The two-day course covers what mental health is, what factors can affect wellbeing as well as teaching delegates the practical skills to spot the signs of mental illness and to give them the confidence to step-in and to reassure and support a colleague in need of assistance.
Many organisations including Royal Mail, Unilever and Thames Water have introduced Mental Health First Aiders and are seeing the positive benefits this has brought, in the case of Thames Water they are now recording five mental health first aid interventions for every physical first aid intervention.
Whilst this update to the guidance is a welcome and positive step it does fall short of a mandatory requirement for mental health first aid training in the workplace which will only come through a change in the First Aid at Work legislation. It is hoped that this further, and much needed, change in making mental health first aid needs of equal legal standing with those for physical first aid will be established in the near future.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.