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New guidance on mental health at work

21 November 2018

THE HEALTH and Safety Executive (HSE), Britain's national regulator for workplace health and safety, has today announced new First Aid guidance on mental health. The new guidance provides employers with advice on how to support employees experiencing a mental health issue, including training staff as ‘mental health trained first aiders’.

This updated guidance signals a fundamental shift in how mental health support will now be assessed and provided for in the workplace. It is anticipated that this voluntary guidance will also provide a timely talking point for a parliamentary debate on changing health and safety legislation around first aid due to take place in a matter of weeks.

The HSE announcement follows the publication of an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by the CEOs of over 50 leading employers, calling on the government to uphold its manifesto pledge to change Health and Safety law to include mental health. The letter was the most recent development in the ‘Where’s Your Head At’ campaign led by Bauer Media Group, MHFA England and Natasha Devon MBE which has attracted over 200,000 signatories on a change.org petition.

Clarifying what the guidance change means to employers, HSE stated, “The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has enhanced its First Aid guidance to help employers understand the existing need to consider mental health alongside physical health when undertaking their ‘needs assessment’. 

“There has, however, been no legal change to make mental health first aid-type training mandatory.”

CEO at Mental Health First Aid England Simon Blake OBE commented, “We have worked in close collaboration with HSE to ensure that mental health is explicit in the guidance that employers refer to when assessing their needs around First Aid, so we very much welcome today’s announcement. There is no golden bullet when it comes to workplace mental health and Mental Health First Aid training is just one part of the wider strategic approach that we recommend organisations adopt.

“Today’s guidance is an important step towards supporting employees’ mental health but we are clear that equality will only truly be reached when the law demands that every workplace must make provision for mental, as well as physical, first aid. We look forward to achieving legislative change so that Health and Safety regulations are designed to protect our whole health, mental and physical.”

Currently, MHFA England is delivering training into thousands of organisations across the country, including private and public bodies, schools, colleges and universities. Many of these organisations are reporting the positive impact that MHFA England training is having within their organisations and on their staff, including earlier access to support services such as Employee Assistance Programmes and in-house counselling. As an example, Thames Water has reported that for every physical first aid intervention they record, five mental health first aid interventions. 

Chief health, safety & security officer at Thames Water Karl Simons says, “Mental Health First Aiders at Thames Water have been a catalyst for engagement, providing our employees with the confidence to come forward and seek support at their time of need. 

“The HSE’s new guidance is a welcome step forward, but legislative change is needed if we want see real progress across society. At Thames Water we record five mental health first aid interventions for every physical first aid intervention, so it’s essential that every workplace has access to first aid support for both mental and physical health.”

MHFA England training also sits on a unique evidence base of over 70 studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of MHFA training in increasing mental health awareness, knowledge and confidence in how to support a person experiencing mental ill health. A recent RAND study commissioned by Public Health England studied 117 mental health and wellbeing programmes and found MHFA England training to be among the top five identified as meeting the highest standards of evidence (Nesta level 3).

Working with MHFA England, first aid charity St John Ambulance has trained 6,000 mental health first aiders in just over a year.

Director of Training and Enterprise, Mel Fox, said, “St John Ambulance welcomes the HSE’s new guidance as we firmly believe that taking care of mental wellbeing – whether it’s managing stress, depression or another condition – is as important as looking after physical illness. 

“We expect demand for training to grow exponentially in the coming years and are fully committed to helping organisations support the health of their employees as a whole.”

To find out more about the campaign to change the law around First Aid in the workplace, please visit wheresyourheadat.org