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Work-related stress, risk management and Management Standards

Not too many years ago, most people, whether they were employers, employees, trades unionists, professionals or researchers, would have expressed an interest in the issue of work stress but would not necessarily have agreed that it was a priority for organizations let alone for governments or for societies in general. All that has changed, and radically so, in many countries across the globe. In Britain, as in much of what is now the European Union, the 1990s was a period of great change not only in our understanding of work-related stress but also in our determination to manage the associated risks to individual workers and to their organizations. Research in action has become more closely related to development work, particularly in relation to organizational risk management systems for work-related stress, and has largely refocused on the evaluation of interventions in real world situations. This, in turn, has revitalized our collective interest in evaluation science and led to a questioning of the adequacy of the natural science paradigm for our purposes. In addition to a changing world of research, there have been significant developments in relation to the exercise of common law in England and Wales and in provision and the use of legislative and non-legislative instruments such as guidance and education. During the early and mid 1990s, the Courts in England and Wales heard the case of Walker vs Northumberland County Council and found in favour of the claimant. John Walker took an action against his employers for breach of their common law duty of care in relation to the design and management of his workload. This was arguably one of Britains first stress cases and proved a watershed in the development of personal injury litigation. There have been several twists in this story since then. The 1990s closed out with a consultation exercise, managed by the UKs Health & Safety Executive, on the possible introduction of an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on risk management for work-related stress to supplement existing health and safety regulations. Despite a full and positive response to the consultation a new ACoP did not happen but a different strategy based on enhanced guidance emerged. It is that strategy that is the subject of much of this Special Edition of Work & Stress . The strategy, supported by additional research and set firmly within a risk management approach, is based on the notion of Management Standards to guide organizations in dealing with work-related stress. The first two papers in this Special Edition are provided by teams of authors from the Health & Safety Executive, in both cases led by Colin Mackay. These papers describe first the background to the Management Standards project and then the Management Standards
Work & Stress ISSN 0267-8373 print/ISSN 1464-5335 online # 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/02678370412331291489



themselves. In many respects they are current policy reviews rather than reports of particular empirical studies. The journals remit is to publish such papers where they inform current thinking and developments in our area of occupational health psychology. This they clearly do. The Management Standards do progress the situation in Britain, and there can be little argument about that. Whether they will prove to be a better alternative to the original proposal for an ACoP will be determined in due course. Whether the detail of the Standards as proposed is justifiable is open to debate. Whether they will be used as intended, within the risk management framework, will become clear over the next few years. These are just some of the issues that might be legitimately be raised regarding the current initiative. In order to gauge reactions to the prospect of Management Standards, the Editorial team invited commentaries from experts involved with the issue of work-related stress across several continents. Following the papers from the Health & Safety Executive, the journal publishes commentaries from Michiel Kompier in the Netherlands, Cam Mustard in Canada and Chris Walls and Frank Darby in New Zealand. The commentaries are concluded with a piece by Frank Bond from Britain which raises the question of how we should balance out such organizationally focused initiatives with a concern for helping individual workers. This Special Edition also publishes two relevant empirical papers and a further policyrelated paper from the World Health Organization in the same general area of concern. The first empirical paper concerns the relationship between work characteristics and mental health and is based on a four-wave study conducted in the Netherlands by Annette de Lange and colleagues. The second paper explores the Effort-Reward Imbalance theory of Johannes Siegrist and is by Brigitte Kudielka and her colleagues. The final paper in this edition discusses the thinking that recently emerged within the World Health Organization on the relationships among work, employment and mental health ahead of the forthcoming 2005 meeting of European Ministers of Health in Helsinki. The two empirical papers advance our understanding of the relationship between the fact and nature of work and health, while the final paper attempts to summarize what we know about mental health and work in particular and how we might take forward that knowledge to the benefit of working people. In many respects this Special Edition breaks new ground. Furthermore, it is published at a critical moment in time, at least for those working in Britain. However, its message extends well beyond the shores of the British Isles. We recommend it to you and hope that you will find its contents interesting, stimulating and useful. TOM COX Institute of Work, Health and Organisations (I-WHO) University of Nottingham William Lee Buildings, no.8 Nottingham Science and Technology Park Nottingham NG7 2RQ, UK e-mail: