THE ENVIRONMENT Agency has launched a new probe into bullying management after it emerged that five new claims for ill health compensation are to be lodged against it in Leeds.
Agency board member Alan Dalton has ordered an investigation at the Agency's Leeds water sampling laboratory where two managers have provoked claims of 'continual victimisation and harrasment'.
The investigation will be carried out by Agency north east regional manager Roger Hyde after desperate staff contacted Dalton asking for help.
The new actions follow last year's probe by Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council at the Agency's Upper Severn area.
This came after a complaint from stressed civil engineer Michael Ryan and concluded that the Agency was in breach of 1992 Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations in its treatment of stressed employees. The Agency was ordered to frame a new stress policy.
Up to six employees are now expected to bring new cases of bullying and harassment through the Health & Safety Executive in Leeds.
Dalton joined the Agency last from a health and safety role at the Transport and General Workers Union. He said earlier this year that he was 'shocked, surprised and very concerned' that the Agency lacked a coherent policy for dealing with stress (NCE 6 April).
This week he told NCE: 'I've already discussed this with (Agency chairman) Sir John Harman and he is aware of the problem. There is enough substance here to be very concerned indeed about what is going on at Leeds.'
He added: 'There are a lot of other people who are too frightened to complain and this could be the tip of the iceberg. There will now be an internal inquiry which will report to our regional advisory panel for the north east.
If we are not satisfied we will take it further. Disciplinary action could be taken up to and including dismissals.'
He said the investigation at Leeds was expected to report in September and would feed into the Environment Agency's national stress policy statement, which is expected to be unveiled in October. 'I hope there will be enough time to learn lessons from Leeds and feed them into our national policy, ' he added.
The recent Leeds cases were brought to Dalton's attention by former Agency employee Derrick Bruce. He was dismissed last month for 'threatening behaviour' towards one of his managers. Bruce denies the charge and is appealing against the dismissal this week. He claimed that staff in Leeds had been terrorised by two managers over a two year period.
The five are supported by their local MPs who have written to environment minister Michael Meacher asking him to take action. Bruce said: 'There have been two nervous breakdowns this year and we lost 40 staff over the last 18 months. But the vast majority of the 50 staff still there are all standing together now.'
HSE investigator Paul Robinson said: 'We have spoken to Derrick Bruce and will be pursuing these claims. There are two sides to every story and we need to hear what the Environment Agency has to say.'
The Agency was unable to comment further on the cases.
HSE stress guidelines are expected soon. For progress see www.hse.gov.uk/press/press.htm