More than a third of personnel officers fear that stress-related claims in the workplace are set to rise.

The shock finding came in a survey of members from the Society of Personnel Officers in Local Government (SOCPO) by public sector insurer Zurich Municipal.

The survey was conducted to investigate a 30% surge in stress-related claims in 2002. Teachers were one of the most likely groups to generate stress-related liability claims.

Zurich Municipal underwriting director Alan Woof said: "Stress in the workplace accounts for a large number of employee absences in the public sector."

The findings revealed many local authority personnel officers do not have the expertise to reduce work-related stress. Only one in six respondents rated liability for work-related stress as a key employment issue.

The survey was in response to last year's Court of Appeal rulings on three stress-related liability claims from local authorities. The court ruled that in two cases stress was not foreseeable and the employer was not liable.

Zurich Municipal warned that the rulings showed it is not enough for public sector organisations to rely on stress-reducing measures alone. The survey found 64% of local authority personnel officers do not have the know-how to help reduce workplace stress.

Woof said: "The Court of Appeal ruling might help to defend a claim for work-related stress if appropriate structures and procedures exist in an organisation, but public sector bodies should not become complacent. It is no good having the structures there and not implementing remedial measures if an individual raises concerns."

Zurich's findings concurred with recent TUC research, which found that 55% of its members viewed stress as a major workplace concern.

The survey results have led Zurich Municipal to launch a stress management awareness course aimed at developing an understanding of the potential scale of the problem; knowledge of health and safety legislation, and help with implementing preventative measures.