An NHS trust has become the first organisation in the country to receive an official Government warning about stress levels in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive sent the first order to West Dorset Hospitals NHS Trust, which is applying for foundation status. The "enforcement notice" was the first to be issued as part of a new code tackling workplace stress, which was revealed by The Independent in June. It means employers face criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with six standards designed to ease pressures within work environments. The landmark warning is likely to lead to a string of prosecutions against hospitals, schools and businesses across the country as part of the HSE's battle against work-related stress.

West Dorset Hospitals NHS Trust was set a deadline of 15 December to assess stress levels among its 1,100 staff and to implement a program-me to ease the problem after HSE officers received complaints and visited the site. If it fails to comply to the order, the Trust will face court action and fines, according to the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Elaine Mead, director of service development at the Trust, said: "We recognise that a busy hospital can be a very stressful environment for staff in some areas and we are committed to doing everything that we can to reduce factors which lead to work-related stress.

"This is a priority for the Government and also for the Trust and we are confident that we will be able to comply with this improvement notice."

Stress costs British society as much as £3.75bn a year, an estimated £370m of which is drained from British industry, according to the HSE.