Category Archives: Mental Health Advice

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Mental Health at Work: Quick Facts

Stressed man rubbing eyesStress is now recognised as a very serious health and safety issue, and one that all organisations must address if they are to comply with health and safety legislation. Employers must treat stress like any other health hazard.

This topic explains the benefits of taking proactive action and highlights the factors associated with stress that can be very costly to employers. It also considers how employers can risk assess for stress as well as looking at actions employers can take to address the causes of workplace stress.

  • Stress can cause absenteeism, high staff turnover, low morale, increased insurance premiums, reduced productivity, more frequent accidents and compensation claims.
  • The most common signs of stress include: being withdrawn, producing work of a lower standard than usual, increased sickness absence, alterations in working hours and being short-tempered or irritable.
  • Organisations should take a proactive approach to reducing stress levels, eg having a policy on stress and effective procedures, providing appropriate training and offering treatment and rehabilitation should it be required.
  • The HSE has identified six primary sources of stress at work: demands of the job, control, relationships, change, role, and support of the individual.
  • Employers can gather information about stress in their workplace by qualitative methods (eg talking to staff, focus groups) and quantitative methods (eg sickness absence data, staff turnover, questionnaires).
  • Managers should regularly review issues such as volume of work, working hours, job design, communications and provision of training, management style and the incidence of bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Contact Walker Health and Safety Services if you wish to discuss this subject.

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How to help someone with SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is seasonal affective disorder?

It is more than the “winter blues” or a general feeling of sadness — it’s a major depressive disorder brought about by the lengthening periods of darkness.

It causes lethargy, low energy, difficulty waking up in the mornings and decreased concentration. It’s an issue that can have drastic effects on productivity in the winter months.

How common is seasonal affective disorder?

That is dependent on a variety of factors. But, in the UK and Ireland, it is thought to affect as many as one in three people. It’s likely someone you know in the workplace is beginning to struggle with it.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

Broadly, SAD has the same outward signs as depression:

•persistent low mood
•loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
•feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
•low self-esteem
•feeling stressed or anxious
•reduced sex drive
•becoming less sociable.

There are some SAD-specific signs, though, as follows.

•feeling less active than normal
•lethargy and sleepiness throughout the day
•difficulty concentrating
•an increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain.

What are the risk factors for seasonal affective disorder?

There are some common, easily recognisable risk factors for seasonal affective disorder.

•Women are more likely to suffer from SAD — in fact, they are four times more likely to suffer than men.
•It is more common in everyone the further you get from the equator; the lower hours of sunlight are a big contributor.
•People with a family history of depression are more likely to develop SAD.
•You are more likely to first develop the disorder in younger life. It has even been reported in children.

The most significant and obvious difference between depression and seasonal affective disorder is that SAD is linked to the changing seasons, whereas depression is year-round.

Luckily there are ways to help with SAD that don’t work with “ordinary” depression.

How to help with seasonal effective disorder

There are some quick and easy ways to make the workplace more manageable for people who suffer from serious winter depression.

•Provide more light: offices can become rather dark and dreary when the sun starts setting earlier. Some employees may be seated at desks or in cubicles situated far from the nearest source of natural light. Try rearranging your floor plan to maximise the natural light available and consider moving people suffering from SAD closer to windows.

•Provide even more light: a lot of people suffering from SAD benefit greatly from a SAD lamp or light box, a form of light therapy that uses fluorescent lights to simulate the natural sun.

•Encourage more outdoor time: employees should be taking lunch away from their desks in all offices — it helps clear the mind and means people are ready to attack the afternoon’s tasks afresh. Encourage your staff to go further than the kitchen. Assuming the winter weather isn’t too harsh, lunchtime can be well spent going for a quick walk around the block. It’s about getting as much sunlight and positivity into the workday as possible. Consider short outdoor meetings and coffee runs.

•Help out with health: SAD can wreak havoc on the appetite, causing weight gain, which can make the associated depression harder to deal with. Provide healthier snacking options and hot drink options, such as diet drinks and soups and herbal teas.

Contact us to discuss this further.


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Employee Fact Sheet: Drugs

There are serious health effects associated with the misuse of drugs including heart disease, HIV and Hepatitis C, psychological illnesses and a greater risk of accidents, to mention just a few. Understanding of the effects of drugs is an important element in the process of accepting that “social” drug users pose a health and safety risk to any organisation.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 lists the drugs that are subject to control and classifies them in three categories according to their relative harmfulness when abused, as follows.

Class Aincluding cocaine, heroin, LSD, mescalin, methadone, morphine, opium and injectable forms of Class B drugs.
Class Bincluding oral preparations of amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine and methaqualone (mandrex), cannabis and cannabis resin.
Class Cincluding most benzodiazepines (sleeping pills, tranquillisers, eg valium) and the harmful amphetamines.

Commonly-used Drugs — Short-term and Long-term Effects


Cannabis comes in two forms: herbal and resin. It is usually mixed with tobacco and smoked in the form of a hand rolled cigarette. Cannabis in both forms is a Class B drug.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Relaxed, happy, heightened sense of awarenessDizziness, sickness, dry mouth, lips, tongue, feeling hungry, loss of co-ordination, panic and paranoiaLung disease and lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, depression and some evidence points to schizophrenia


Amphetamines are a group of synthetic drugs that are stimulants. They are often known as speed, billy or wizz. Often in powder form, it can be snorted through the nose, some are available in tablet form but it can also be injected. A strong, highly addictive form of amphetamine known as crystal meth can be smoked.

Most amphetamines are Class B drugs but crystal meth and amphetamines prepared in injection form are Class A drugs.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Sudden energy boost, talkative and excited — the high may last 4–8 hoursOnce the high has worn off, a crash occurs, leaving the person feeling very tired (but unable to sleep) anxious and irritable.

They may suffer from short-term dizziness and hallucinations

Burst blood vessels can lead to paralysis and may be fatal, insomnia, depression.

As the body becomes tolerant of the drug, larger amounts are needed, leading to addiction

Cocaine and crack

Cocaine is a stimulant, often known as charlie, snow, toot or coke. Often available in a powder form which can be snorted through the nose or rubbed on the gums. The form of cocaine called crack can be smoked. Both cocaine and crack are Class A drugs.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Intense feelings of energy, well-being and self-confidence

The high may last only up to 30 minutes. A crack high is more intense but may last only 10 minutes

Similar crash effect to amphetamine, raised blood pressure, tiredness and depressionHeart failure, depression, insomnia, extreme paranoia, extreme weight loss and malnutrition, impotence (in men) and damage to the nasal passages

If taken when pregnant may cause harm to the baby — low birth weight, birth defects and the baby may be born addicted to cocaine


Ecstasy is a synthetic stimulant, often known as E or pills. Its chemical name is Methyledioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Ecstasy is usually available in tablet form but a powdered form of MDMA is sometimes used. In England and Wales there have been an average of 27 deaths per year from people taking ecstasy. Ecstasy is a Class A drug.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Rush of energy, alertness, excited, happy, increased sense of affection towards people around them (ie exposing themselves to personal risk), often popular with clubbers as sound (especially music) and colours seem more intenseDehydration is a major risk — if fluid levels drop dramatically dehydration can cause unconsciousness, coma or even death

Similar crash effect to cocaine and amphetamines

Dry mouth, nausea, raised blood pressure, heart pounding, depression, body can stiffen causing clenched jaws and grinding teeth

The use of ecstasy became widespread in the late 1980s

Long-term effects have yet to be determined by the medical profession. The short-term effects can be fatal


Heroin is a powerful sedative and painkiller. Heroin and codeine are derived from the opium poppy and are known as opiates. Heroin is a Class A drug and highly addictive, both physically and psychologically.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Intense feeling of relaxation and wellbeingThe purity of heroin differs dramatically in each batch. Often the products with which it is bulked up are also harmful and can cause allergic or toxic reactions

Overdose is common when a stronger dose than the body can cope with is used and this can result in heart failure, unconsciousness and coma

Overdose effects can result in death through heart failure. Coma or unconsciousness can occur and there is a risk of choking on vomit when unconscious

Respiratory failure (loss of normal lung function) can be fatal

Injecting heroin has additional risks: sharing needles has the risk of Hepatitis C or HIV and damage to veins can lead to serious infections and abscesses


The two most commonly used hallucinogens are Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and magic mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms are often called shrooms or mushies and be can eaten or boiled in liquid and then drunk.

LSD is synthetic liquid that is is usually dropped onto small squares of blotting paper which is then swallowed, often known as acid.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Hallucinogens are taken to experience a long-lasting series of hallucinations, known as a trip

Time can appear to speed up or slow down. A mushroom trip can last 4–10 hours. An LSD trip lasts around 12 hours

Bad trips with frightening or disturbing hallucinations can occur leaving people feeling very disturbed

Users may place themselves in physical danger and act irrationally or impulsively

Could make an existing mental health condition more severe


Tranquilisers are a prescription medication designed to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia. Many tranquilisers are addictive if used regularly. They are available as tablets, as gel capsules, in injection form or as suppositories and are often known as mazzies, benzos or jellies.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Calming, sedating effect.

They are misused to lessen the effects of a crash, after taking stimulants or to lessen the effects of drug withdrawal symptoms

Physically addictive — withdrawal symptoms may include: severe headache, nausea, anxiety and confusionPhysical addiction may lead to attempts to heighten the effect of the drug by crushing and injecting the powder form which contains chalk and may cause the veins to collapse. This can lead to serious infections or gangrene

Gel caps that are melted down to inject can then re-solidify inside blood vessels, which can cause death


Solvents are available both at home and in the workplace. There are over 200 solvents liberally available and they include paints, cleaning fluids and glue. Every year in the UK there is an average of 50 deaths from solvent misuse.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Similar to alcohol: happy, laughing and uninhibitedHeart attack, vomiting and black outsHeart failure, Liver, kidney and brain damage

Please contact us if you require any assistance with this topic.


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Stress – Are big events stressful?

Stress is an unfortunate but often unavoidable side effect of our busy lives. Having on-hand methods for managing stress is a good way to combat its physical, mental, and emotional impact. How stressful are big life events at work such as starting a new job, being fired, commuting delays, taking a break from work or being promoted?

This question has been answered by means of survey on stress in modern Britain by the Physiological Society, said to be Europe’s largest network of physiologists.

In partnership with the polling firm You Gov, it surveyed 2000 British adults and asked them to rate how stressful they find (or imagine they would find) various different life events.

Ranked Events

The following is a rundown of the top 18 ranked stressful events, (the number that follows is the average score out of 10 points assigned to each work or life event as an indication of how stressful the situation is).

  1. Death of spouse/relative/friend (9.43)
  2. Imprisonment (9.15)
  3. Flood/fire damaging your home (8.89)
  4. Being seriously ill (8.52)
  5. Being fired (8.47)
  6. Separation/divorce (8.47)
  7. Identity theft (8.16)
  8. Unexpected money problems (7.39)
  9. Starting a new job (6.54)
  10. Planning a wedding (6.51)
  11. Arrival of first child (6.06)
  12. Commute delays (5.94)
  13. Terrorist threats (5.84)
  14. Losing smartphone (5.79)
  15. Moving to bigger house (5.77)
  16. Brexit (4.23)
  17. Going on holiday (3.99)
  18. Promotion/success at work (3.78)

Interestingly, for every event, the reported stress experienced by men was lower than that by women. The average difference was 0.56 points.

The biggest difference was in the stress caused by the threat of terrorism, which was 1.25 points higher for women. The smallest difference was for the arrival of a first child — a life-changing event for either sex.

As I am planning my own wedding it is interesting to see that this category falls at number 10. As the day gets nearer (a week to go) I personally feel that the last couple of months has been the most stressful of my life and I have experienced a few from the 18 stressful events!

If you require guidance with stress in the workplace, please contact us.

Helpful apps – Head space

Blog – Strength to strength blog

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Five steps to implementing a dog-friendly office policy

1. Check formalities

There will be some situations where dogs are not appropriate. For example, in a kitchen, or a manufacturing site where there is a risk of contamination. However, in many cases there will be no legal reason why a dog cannot be in the workplace. That said, check whether or not there are any restrictions outlined in the organisation’s insurance policies and rental agreements. For example, having an animal in the car might invalidate some car insurance policies, and some rented work spaces might specifically state that dogs (with the exception of assistance dogs) are not permitted.

2. Include in the risk assessment 

Any dogs on the premises will need to be considered as part of the employer’s duties under health and safety legislation. A risk assessment will need to be carried out and it is important that any hazards are identified, as well as any options for harm and risk mitigation. Dogs will also need to be incorporated into the fire safety risk assessment, for example to ensure that they are not blocking emergency exits, and to detail what to do in the event of a fire. Contact us if you wish this option to be added to a risk assessment.

3. Pet-proof the workplace

There will be some logistical considerations if dogs are to be allowed in the office. For example, will the office need cleaning more regularly? Is the office ventilated sufficiently? There might be some no-go areas for dogs (office kitchens, for example) or alternatively, specific areas that are reserved for dogs and pet-loving employees. Other considerations might be ensuring that bins have lids, and that desks are equipped with a means to secure a dog lead.

4. Create a code of conduct

A clear policy will help alleviate concerns over dogs in the office. Issues to consider include the following.

  • Making it clear that the dog’s owner is legally and financially responsible for any damage (to people or property), for example by ensuring that they have appropriate third-party insurance.
  • Having a probationary period for any pets to ensure that the dog is happy in the work environment, and that their presence and behaviour is not unduly distracting.
  • Setting ground rules about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, it is unlikely to be acceptable for a dog to rush around, bark, or be over-protective of their owner. Bear in mind, it might be necessary to have ground rules for other employees, too.
  • Setting out any requirements for welfare responsibilities, such as feeding, how frequently bedding is changed, and where food is kept.
  • Requiring up-to-date vaccinations, regular treatment for ticks and mites, and not allowing dogs into the office if they are ill.
  • Outlining that the owner is responsible for the dog at all times, and what should happen if the dog needs to be left for any period of time.
  • Only having dogs in the office when appropriate, for example, not if their owner is in an all-day meeting and cannot provide the necessary attention.
  • Considering whether there should be a rota, or other means of limiting the number of dogs in the workplace.
  • Setting rules on whereabouts the dog can be, including, for example, whether they are allowed in when staff with allergies or phobias are also present.
  • Making it clear what happens if any rules are broken.

5. Make sure you have staff support

Finally, before allowing dogs to work, check that it is supported by other members of staff. As well as gauging general support levels for any change in policy, it is important to understand if any staff have a reason for not wanting a dog nearby. It is also imperative to have a clear policy for dealing with staff concerns and complaints.


Having dogs in the office does not need to be a cause for concern if proper steps are followed and there is a clear policy in place. Although it might take time to set up, in the long-term it is likely to lead to happier pet-owners and an overall improvement to the workplace and staff morale.

All we need to do now is get a dog!

Contact us should you require a risk assessment or to discuss the blog in more detail.