Right of Reply: Jenny Bacon

The Director-General of the Health and Safety Executive responds to our coverage of work-related stress

AS YOUR leader ("Legislation is no way to tackle stress", Monday 31 August) implied, employer attitudes, poor organisation and working methods do make employees physically ill. The problem is certainly a large one. Rightly it is no longer fashionable to dismiss stress as a wimp's cop-out. A stressed worker is less productive and potentially dangerous - quite apart from the impact on the individual.

Under existing law, employers have a clear duty to ensure their employees' health. That is a preventative duty. The challenge is how to interpret that duty in dealing with work-related stress.

Many employers want guidance and advice. So do our inspectors. Simply leaving it to individual employees to sue their employers after they have been made ill at work is no more appropriate in dealing with stress than with any other form of occupational health. Prevention is better than retribution or compensation. We do need to address factors that are clearly under employers' control. We must avoid confusing the pressures that help people perform well with the unacceptable and avoidable pressures that can damage health.

Your front page story, "Companies to face fines for workplace stress" (Monday 31 August), confuses the straightforward guidance for small firms which we will issue shortly, and a possible Approved Code of Practice to complement existing legal duties. We're examining the feasibility of an Approved Code on work-related stress. If the HSE does decide that a Code would help to clarify what employers need to do to meet their obligations and keep their employees "healthy, happy and here", its proposals would be subject to wide consultation. Let's not close down the debate without solving the problem.

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