Sunday, 12 March 2017

Less Stress, a better 'Service'. The need for suitable and sufficient Risk Assessment of Stress

Being a priest in the Church of England I have seen many colleagues made ill by the high demands on their time, and own spiritual needs. As a self-supporting-minster (SSM) I have, in my earlier days in the role, attempted too much and felt the pressure of balancing Church, family and my full-time career too great.  

Do not make the mistake of thinking in the context of this post that a little stress is good. This post is concerned with those ‘stressors’ that create in the person a state of ‘distress’, and all of its associated problems.

Broadly this post considers the issue of stress and the possible failings of a loving church. Now before everyone jumps with shock at the above insinuation I write not accusing any particular church in general, but rather their failing to understand! If you are asking why in a Blog dedicated to disability is this issue being raised then, as you will read, it indeed lead to disability through mental illness and more.

Who this is aimed protecting at is ‘everyone’ giving their time to a church, not necessarily the ordained ministers, or paid lay workers. Though one should note that in the case of the President of the Methodist Conference v Preston[i] it was held that Ms Preston, an ordained minister, was not an employee but rather an ‘Office Holder’; which echoed a previous case that also came before the Courts.[ii] As this is not aimed at the conversation regarding who is employed or not I shall move on.

If a Church body makes the mistake of thinking that as an office holder health and safety law, (in particular in this post ‘health) does not apply then they are wrong. Although the sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA74)[iii] may not apply to office holders, section 3[iv] most certainly does, as it does for all people supporting churches week in and week out..

We must also take note of the provisions of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations (MHSAW)[v]. Under the MHSAW regulations an employer is duty bound to make a “…  suitable and sufficient assessment of —…

(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking, for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions …

Any assessment such as is referred to in paragraph (1) or (2) shall be reviewed”[vi]

This section is not reliant upon employer-employee status; instead it requires that the employer (the Church) conducts risk assessments that are suitable in that they cover the risk they aim to deal with. And, sufficient in that are detailed enough in the circumstances.

If one takes into account the Health and Safety Executives information on its web site,[vii] then there should no doubt about the need for such an assessment; not just for the clergy, but for all of God’s children serving our churches.

[i] [2013] UKSC 29
[iii] HSAW74 (Ch.34) In particularly Section 2; General duties of employers to their employees.
[iv] HSAW74 Section 3. General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees.
[v] 1999 No. 3242.
[vi] MHSAW Regulation 3

Cite this article as: Fr. Jeffrey A.Leach.OSP, " Less Stress, a better ‘Service’. The need for suitable and sufficient Risk Assessment of stress.
" in Disabling Barriers to Church Blog,12th March 2017,

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