Stress in the workplace is the biggest emerging risk of the 21st century and will have a devastating affect on the public sector, particularly local authorities, finds an Association of Local Authority Risk Managers' (ALARM) survey.

It fears the trend is accelerating by recent big awards to public sector employees claiming compensation for stress-related illnesses.

The survey also finds the 'no-win, no fee' legal advertising as well as media coverage of high compensation awards has increased claims.

Its key points are:

  • 85% of public sector risk managers included 'stress at work' in their ten most important emerging risks.
  • Four out of five risk managers included employee health and employee liability in their top ten risks
  • Nine out of ten ALARM members believe there is an unhealthy compensation culture growing in the UK.
  • The legal reforms of Lord Woolf received a 92% vote of confidence.
  • Three-quarters of ALARM survey respondents felt commercial corporate governance guidelines should be extended to public bodies.
  • Government changes, legislation and budget constraints are high profile risk concerns for local authority risk managers.

    "If the adage is true that an organisation's greatest asset is its workforce, then local authorities and other public bodies would be advised to review their personnel policies," said ALARM chairman David Fleetwood.

    The conference also heard that insurable risks account for only 20% of the risk faced by corporations.

    John Murray, managing director of Zurich Municipal told delegates there are huge opportunities for risk services following the Turnbull report on corporate governance. Companies must now expose all risk to their members including financial, operational, compliance control and management.

    ALARM, AIRMIC and IRM launched at the conference an initiative to define an internationally recognised British standard for the practice of risk management. A project team fronted by David Ovenden, former head of insurance and risk management for P&O, will produce the definitive parameters and standards.

    Existing standards will be reviewed and revised. There will be a a six month preparatory period before its proposals are published for consultation. The standard will be submitted to the British Standards Institute for BSi ratification before going to the International Standards Organisation (ISO).