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Environment Agency chief takes over stress inquiry

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ENVIRONMENT AGENCY chairman Sir John Harman has this week taken charge of the employee stress crisis within the organisation, after NCE revealed 'bullying management and lack of a policy for dealing with stress had led to a flood of absences' (NCE 6 April).

The high level investigation follows work by Agency board member Alan Dalton. He conducted a nationwide investigation into stress at the Agency amid fears that 'bullying management' had become a widespread problem.

Dalton, who claimed this week that the NCE article had given the Agency 'a kick up the backside', said: 'I have handed over my investigation to Sir John Harman and he has promised me he will deal with this serious issue.'

Documents passed to Harman this week include a letter sent to the Agency last September by the environmental health officer for Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council Andrew Goldsmith. This concluded that the Agency had been in breach of Management of Health & Safety at Work regulations relating to the issue of stress.

Goldsmith carried out a two year investigation into stress at the Agency following a complaint to his office from a stressed civil engineer. His letter to the Agency advises it to take action to limit stress.

Goldsmith confirmed this week that failure to develop a new policy for dealing with stress by the end of June could lead to the Agency being served with an official improvement notice and ultimately legal proceedings.

He told NCE: 'I was disappointed that the Environment Agency didn't meet my original six week timetable by last November, but I accept that it wanted to develop a national response rather than a regional one as originally requested.' He added: 'I now expect a satisfactory response by June.'

Goldsmith's letter warned the Agency that it had 'not undertaken an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed while at work in relation to psychosocial health from workplace stress.'

The Agency, it said, had not effectively planned, organised, controlled, monitored and reviewed preventative measures and had not provided its employees with comprehensive and relevant information on the risks to their health and safety from stress.

In the letter he also states: 'I require you to assess the risk posed by your undertaking to your employees' health, safety and welfare and identify the preventative and protective measures needed to avoid, prevent and reduce the risks at work and provide employees with relevant information on the risks to their health and safety and the procedures to be implemented.'

Goldsmith added that he also expected the Agency's new policy to include training to deal with harassment and bullying. 'I'm delighted that the Agency is now pushing this matter at the highest level. I expect a response in June and if there are any more substantial delays there will be particular concern. The policies will have to show a high degree of employee consultation.'

A spokesman for Sir John Harman this week said that he had not yet received the new information from Dalton. He added that he did not wish to add to the Agency's earlier comments in which it said that the Agency was working with the Health & Safety Executive and the unions to develop a stress management strategy by the autumn.

He said: 'The chairman has discussed Mr Dalton's concerns and takes these concerns very seriously. We can confirm that Environment Agency board will be discussing the wider issue of health and safety on 24 May.'

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