Category: Mental Health & Wellbeing

Steve Loft

Managing Mental Health Risk At Work

Photo of arm around shoulder of a man in a suit

When we talk about risk management, employee mental health is very often not something considered, but it can have a massive effect on health and safety in the workplace. I asked my colleague at WellMent, John Allen, to research the current thinking around mental health and risk management at work, and here’s his findings. 

Mental Health Risk Assessments at Work – How to write one in 2020

We all have a legal and moral responsibility to manage work related risks, including mental health. The transport sector manages risks to staff and passengers every day. Maintaining good mental health amongst colleagues is smart and critical to success. The TSSA and other unions have been working together with transport companies to manage the risks and push employee wellbeing to the top of the agenda.

Why do we need to risk assess mental health at work?

Poor mental health costs us all financially and morally. Following 2017’s ‘Thriving at Work’ review, the latest analysis by Deloitte shows poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year – a rise of 16% since 2016. 1 in 6 people in the last week will have experienced anxiety or depression. And in the rail industry, the rate of suicide is 1.6 times higher than the UK average. But the research also showed that for every £1 invested in mental health interventions, employers get back £5 per person. Investing in good mental health at work reduces sickness, presenteeism (showing up for work when you’re sick) and staff turnover. Away from the figures, we have a moral obligation. Work should not make us ill or exacerbate existing illness. Work should be a positive force in our lives, helping to provide us with a sense of identity and achievement.

So how do we risk assess mental health at work?

We combine the guidance from the HSE, Mind and other leading experts and marry it with guidance from sector specific experts; in this case the transport sector. We must also consider the impact of Covid-19, particularly in the transport sector. The pandemic has forced everyone to adjust their risk assessments and the UK government has now recommended every employer to include managing mental health in return to work strategies. Below are recommendations on risk assessing mental health at work.

“Work-related mental health issues must be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable” 


Remember; employees have the right to work where risks to their health are properly controlled. Employees also have the right to protection after returning to work from sickness absence if an illness has made them more vulnerable.

Drawing up a mental health risk assessment 

1. Identify the mental health hazards 

Abusive customers? Passenger accident or suicide? Armed robbery? Bullying? These are some hazards that might result from work situations in the transport sector. Before you start listing what you think the current hazards are, it is worth checking to see if there is an existing risk assessment for mental health. See if you can locate it. Cross-check existing assessments with HSE guidelines. Do they provide provision for mental health risks? If not, a new assessment needs to be done. Once done, you can then begin accurately identifying the mental health hazards still present at work. 

2. Assess the mental health risks 

Start by consulting each other. For example, how likely are workers liable to need support or time off due to crippling anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental health condition exacerbated or caused by work? Assess these risks in your workplace. What impact do they have on day-to-day functions? What impact are they having organisationally? What is the organisation already doing to minimise these risks? 

3. Control the mental health risks 

Is there occupational health support in place? Is there a wellbeing strategy to help the organisation thrive? You and your colleagues know better than anyone what the risks and potential risks are. Talk to colleagues. Talk to your manager. Ask questions. Your workforce is diverse, and everyone will be experiencing different issues. They may have suggestions you didn’t think of. Another way to help control these risks, is to consult government sanctioned support and advice for employers. You could use Mind’s guide on the Stevenson/Farmer ‘Thriving at Work’ review. This is UK government supported data and guidance. The report suggests all organisations adopt some core standards. These standards can be useful ‘lampposts’ to guide your mental health risk assessments and wellbeing strategy. 

4. Record your findings 

Key to any risk assessment is to record your findings. A failure to do so will invalidate any assessment and could lead to increased mental health problems in the future. Plus, it’s useful having a ‘go-to’ document to refer to when you’re not sure about issues. 

5. Review the controls 

Review agreed control measures regularly. In the current Covid-19 climate, a good routine to get into is perhaps once a quarter. It might be you don’t need to review for at least a year, but with the ever changing nature of work in an uncertain environment, you might want to review mental health risk more regularly than a standard assessment. 

6. Build Covid-19 into mental health risk 

The virus is not going anywhere. Science tells us this. So, we have to find ways to thrive with it. The current fallout caused by Covid-19 includes increased anxiety, frustration, guilt, anger, grief, fear of redundancy and general upset. What special controls do you think might help in a mental health risk assessment? E.g. PPE, minimal customer contact, regular management check-ins, support buddies, flexing or reducing work hours where practicable, using wellbeing champions, ensuring there are an appropriate number of Mental Health First Aiders available, providing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for staff to call, or signposting to relevant local or industry support services where an EAP does not exist. 

Raise awareness & show stigma a red signal

It can be difficult to speak out sometimes. Incredibly difficult. But with UK mental health at an all-time low, it is essential we all try to speak up, particularly to help those unable or too afraid to do so. Use the resources provided by the TSSA and other organisations. Arrange meetings and discussions. Remember: Talking saves lives. Talking also helps organisations thrive. If senior management struggle to understand the importance of mental health, show them the statistics and investment returns. Approach from the profit angle if the moral angle doesn’t get through. Above all, try and remain positive. 

Managing the mental health risk is everyone’s responsibility

Just like physical health and safety, it is everyone’s responsibility to manage the mental health and safety of themselves and their colleagues. Mental health is like physical health, if we don’t look after it, we will keep ignoring our own personal “warnings” and passing our “red signals”. 

References & Sources

How to Implement the Thriving at Work Mental Health Standard in Your Workplace – Mind 

Saving lives on the railways – Samaritans 

Poor mental health costs employers £45 billion a year – Deloitte, Jan 2020 

Mental Health in the Rail Industry – Mental Health at Work 

Covid-19 – Lockdown and your mental wellbeing - RSSB, April 2020 

Mental Health in the Workplace – Word Health Organisation (WHO), May 2019