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Health & Safety Matters - Stress - and Sun

Andy Haynes, Leicester H&S Officer
9th May 2015

Be Strong, Be Resilient!

Teaching has undoubtedly always been a stressful occupation, but we all know that stress levels have gone through the roof in recent years for a number of reasons. Research by the HSE has determined that the causes of work-related stress fall into six areas:

The demands of the job;
The support received from managers and colleagues;
The role of the individual in the organisation;
The control someone has over their work;
Relationships within the workplace;
Change and how it's managed;

All employers have a duty to manage stress and reduce it whenever possible. The NUT believes that the use of the HSE Stress Management Standards (SMS) is the best way to manage stress and a motion at this year's conference authorised NUT members to take industrial action in schools that are not attempting to do this. Leicester City Council also expects its schools to follow the Standards.

Briefly, the main stages in the SMS involve collecting information about the current state of affairs, usually by carrying out a survey; analysing the results, which should include discussing them with staff; recording the findings and producing an action plan; reviewing the progress that has been made annually. All schools should be at least doing this. A head can't claim that there isn't a problem with stress in their school unless they have evidence to back up the statement.

Having said that, teaching, and life, will always be stressful and there are things that you can do to help yourself cope. This is known as building up resilience. Some schools think that if they help their staff to develop resilience they're managing stress. They're not, and they mustn't be allowed to get away with this idea.

The mental health charity MIND talks about Five Ways to Wellbeing which they suggest should be incorporated into daily life. I'll admit that if you're struggling with the pressures of a heavy workload along with family commitments, you might look at these and wonder when you're supposed to find time to do them. You might even consider them to be patronising. If you can't fit in this sort of thing though, it suggests that your Work-Life Balance is out of kilter and this is an indication that your school needs to take action to help. The five ways are:

Connect with the people around you - friends and family are vital.
Be active - exercise can make you feel good.
Take notice of the world around you.
Keep learning.
Give to others - help a neighbour, volunteer to help a charity.

This is a greatly simplified list, but hopefully you'll get the idea.

With mental health, prevention is far better than cure. It's much easier to pull someone back from the edge of the cliff than it is to drag them back up once they've gone over.

The Sun Has Got Its Hat On!

But have you? At this time of year it doesn't take much exposure to the sun before you start to burn, and the risk of skin cancer caused by exposure to the sun is well known. If you have to spend spells outside because of your teaching commitment or break duty, try to avoid standing in the direct sun more than necessary. If you can't find the shade, use high factor sun screen, wear a hat, or preferably do both. It is actually strange that employers are obliged to provide protective clothing for hazardous jobs, but do not need to provide protection from the sun.

You don't have a duty to protect students from sunburn, but common sense suggests that you should warn them of the dangers. If you expect them to perform a task, during which exposure to the sun is unavoidable, you should make sure that they have sufficient notice so that they can bring sun block from home.

For the Diary

Midlands NUT H&S Conference: 19 th June 2015 at Birmingham Regional Office. (Open to all H&S Reps.)
H&S Reps' Training: 6 - 10 th July 2015 at Stoke Rochford Hall. (For Reps who have not previously been trained.)


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