The first steps towards an employers code of practice to deal with stress at work have been taken by the Health and Safety Commission following three years of research and public consultation.
Its first move will be to develop standards of good management against which companies can be measured. This could lead to a full code of practice that would have a bearing on employment tribunals.
"I want employers to be in no doubt that we are determined to see a clear reduction in the amount of illness caused or made worse by work-related stress," said commission chairman Bill Callaghan.
The research leading to this step has shown that 70% of people at all levels back a statutory code.
"This stuns me, and is really positive," says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester University's Institute of Science and Technology, who advises the Health and Safety Executive on stress issues.
"You would have thought 80% of employees and only 15% to 20% of employers would support a code."
Cooper believes stress is a problem that can be resolved, because the causes are now scientifically shown to be lack of control, long hours, inflexible working arrangements, too much work, and autocratic management, including bullying.
"From the shop floor to the top floor people have less control," Cooper says. "We now have a short-term contract culture: you are there when needed; you are a disposable asset."