Britain: Stress kills

It’s official low pay, long hours and being overworked kills. This is the conclusion of recent research into stress in the work-place.

Contrary to the myth put out by the TV and media it’s not the high powered executives that are most at risk.

It is manual blue-collar workers who are more likely to suffer heart attacks because of the high pressure caused by over-time, night shifts and hard work for little pay.

The statistics are frightening. Those who suffer from stress for at least half of their working lives are 25% more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and have a 50% greater chance of dying from a stroke. Enduring long-term stress is worse for your heart than putting on 40 lbs or ageing 30 years.

The same week day the research was revealed West Dorset general hospital NHS trust was served with an enforcement notice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the first served on a British employer to control stress in the work place.

This followed complaints from workers of bullying and unbearable hours. One worker commented, "I am working 12 hour days and have no choice about it because of the levels of work and because it is for the patients". In April of this year speech therapists warned that their service was being "stretched to breaking point", with inadequate staffing and lack of management understanding of the pressures they were under.

Indeed only a month ago workers there hit the headlines by threatening to walkout over pay and professional grading. More than 50 medical secretaries were furious over the trusts refusal to re-grade and award a pay increase in line with national scales. Ironically, this is the showpiece NHS trust which received 3 stars from New Labour’s performance tables, supposedly making it one of the best in Britain for patient care.

Stress in the work place has reached epidemic proportions, according a recent home office study one in five workers show "extremely high" stress levels . Its estimated that 13m working days have been lost with stress related illnesses. The pursuit of New Labour policies have made it easier for employers to exploit workers, both in the public and the private sector.

The recent election of left leaders in key trade unions is no accident. It is crucial that they begin to use their authority to mobilise workers around some key demands like: end to privatisations, investment in our public services, for a decent minimum wage and for a shorter working week.

This article was taken from the August/September issue of International Socialist, newspaper of the CWI in Scotland.





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August 2003