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The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 45003 in June 2021, which provides guidance on reducing mental health risks in the workplace and places mental health within the scope of environmental, health and safety (EHS) management. ISO 45003 is part of the organization’s Health and Safety series of standards, which includes ISO 45001 as a comprehensive standard with which organizations can achieve certified compliance. The new ISO 45003 standard recognizes that employers have a responsibility to protect not only the physical health of their employees, but also the psychosocial health. This means managing psychosocial risks, which are defined in ISO 45003 as risks related to work organization.

 What do psychosocial risks look like in practice?

 Ineffective communication, excessive pressure, poor leadership, and poor organizational culture are mentioned by ISO as some of the many areas that can affect the psychological health of workers. These risks can lead to burnout, other adverse mental health consequences and unhealthy behaviors, including substance abuse. There is also research linking psychosocial risk factors to poor somatic health outcomes, including musculoskeletal disorders.

What can you do to manage psychosocial risks?

ISO 45003 provides practical examples of psychosocial risk control measures for three categories of hazards:

  • Work organization
  • Social factors
  • Work environment, equipment and hazardous work

Examples of ISO psychosocial risk management measures related to work organization include:

  • Giving employees more control over how they do their jobs, using strategies such as dividing up the work or allowing employees to set the pace of tasks
  • Clearly defining roles, supervisory relationships, and performance requirements to minimize confusion and ambiguity
  • Allowing tasks to be prioritized and completed within a flexible time frame
  • Enabling employees to develop competencies
  • Assigning tasks to employees whose knowledge, skills, and experience are appropriate for the task at hand.
  • Providing guidance, effective supervision, and constructive feedback to employees
  • xSupport during peak workload periods

Examples of ISO controls for psychosocial risks related to social factors include:

  • training workers on how to identify psychosocial risks, how to report them, and how to recognize early signs of work-related stress
  • Demonstrating a commitment to maintaining a supportive and respectful work environment
  • Supporting workers who are negatively impacted by psychosocial risks
  • Developing policies and guidelines that outline expected behavior and describe how to manage unacceptable behavior at work
  • Informing employees of their rights and responsibilities
  • Enhancing workplace culture through programs that support community involvement, environmental sustainability and social responsibility

Examples of controls for psychosocial risks associated with work environments, equipment, and hazardous tasks, ISO:

1. Providing appropriate equipment to perform work, and maintaining and improving equipment as needed.

2. using technical controls to isolate or protect workers from hazards such as noise, vibration, and hazardous temperatures.

3. Providing and requiring the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) where there are risks that cannot be controlled by more effective measures.

4. According to ISO guidelines, hazards should be assessed and addressed comprehensively, and employee well-being should be a quality measure that is accepted, not imposed, on the organization’s employees. The new standard is designed to ensure that mental and physical health risks are addressed using a single, integrated, proactive approach.