The government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stress and mental health web pages now include guidance for employers on suicide prevention thereby finally acknowledging that work may play a part in people becoming suicidal. However, the government’s website still treats work as something incidental rather than as a potential causal factor in suicide. University of Leeds professor Dr Sarah Walters points out that “Our research shows that the causes of work-related suicide are systemic and linked to poor working conditions including unmanageable workloads, long hours and bullying.”
Hazards magazine editor Rory O’Neill said the HSE still insists its workplace deaths reporting rule is for accidents only. Suicide and its risk factors remain outside the HSE’s investigation, inspection and enforcement plans as it cannot be reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) passed the following motion at its 2019 Conference:
The CWU…”seeks to ensure that workplace suicide is recognised in legislation. If an employee takes his or her own life in the workplace or indicators suggest it may be work-related it should be immediately investigated as a potential work-related suicide with the burden of proof being imposed on the employer to demonstrate that the suicide was not work-related.”
The follow-up CWU Research Paper: “The Law Against Work-Related Suicides in France” (Sept 2019) was to inform their campaign.
Socialist Alternative issue 5 (Feb 2020) carried the following article “France Telecom: Worked to Death, Driven to Suicide” in the wake of the France Telecom Suicides trial and sentencing of France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard.
Under capitalism, employers treat humans as an expendable resource. Between alienating workplace conditions, climate anxiety and unprecedented social isolation during the pandemic, we have seen a rapid escalation of the mental health crisis. Trade unions have a vital role to play in fighting against low pay and precarity, health and safety in the workplace for a mass programme of green jobs to protect mental health in the workplace and in society as a whole.