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Work-related suicides should be investigated by watchdog, unions say

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Work-related suicides should be reported by employers and investigated by the safety watchdog amid concern that workplace stress is at “epidemic levels”, trade unions have said.They fear the death of the primary school headteacher Ruth Perry, who killed herself while awaiting the outcome of an Ofsted report, shows that potentially fatal work-related stress is not confined to teaching.The Trades Union Congress (TUC), Unison, the Public and Commercial Services Union and teaching unions are all backing a change in the law to allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate work-related suicides.Under HSE rules, employers have a duty to report all deaths of their workers, with an exception for suicides – unlike other countries.

In the UK the HSE cannot investigate any work-related suicide unless it receives a referral by a coroner.Perry’s death prompted experts to call for a change in the law to allow it to launch an immediate inquiry into work-related stress in the education sector.

An article in the British Medical Journal co-authored by Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said there had been reports of at least eight other teacher suicides linked to Ofsted reports.

But it said the true extent of the problem could not be known without an inquiry.Trade unions have backed the call for a change in the law but say it should be broadened to include a duty on all employers to report work-related suicides.The TUC’s Shelly Asquith, who leads on health and safety issues, said: “It is vital that work-related suicides are reported and investigated by the HSE.“The tragic case of Ruth Perry is not an isolated one.

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