ISO addresses mental health

Mental health conditions are posing a new threat to workplace health and safety. ISO 45003 is aimed at guiding businesses on how to improve mental health among workers

The World Health Organization estimates that there are 264-million people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders which are a leading cause of disability. Although the risks to workers vary from a lack of health and safety policies to poor working conditions, they have a negative impact on organisations and the economy at large.

This indicates a shift from infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases that affect workers and the organisations that employ them. If psychological health and safety in the workplace is not addressed, it will pose a significant cost to the global economy.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, at any point in time, approximately 20 percent of the working age population suffers from some type of mental illness, and 50 percent of the population will suffer a period of poor mental health at some point during their lifetime.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, costs related to poor psychological health in South Africa amount to more than R232 billion per year, or 5,7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product as a result of lost productivity.

Undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions in the workplace can reduce productivity and output, increase error rates, lead to poor decision-making and increased absenteeism.

A 2018 survey on insurance and employee benefits solutions, conducted by Aon, found that although many organisations recognise the role they should play in influencing good employee health, most are not employing strategies that best enable these outcomes. The survey, which included more than 900 South African organisations in 25 industries, covering 2,7-million workers, found that:

• Only 40 percent of organisations have a defined health strategy in place (the same as 2016) and even fewer (36 percent) have a clear view of the impact (including cost) of the health issues in their organisation;

• Only 22 percent use data to support their health and well-being strategy and just 17 percent measure ongoing success of their health programmes; and

• Less than 40 percent of organisations rate their health and benefits communication to workers as good.

ISO 45001 is the most visible part of ISO’s solutions for safe and healthy work. The scope of workplace health and safety is being expanded to include psychological health with a new standard in development. ISO 45003 (Occupational health and safety management – psychological health and safety in the workplace – guidance) is expected in 2021.

The new standard will provide guidance to South African organisations on the requirements of ISO 45003 with respect to managing psychological health and safety risk within an OHS management system. ISO 45003 draws attention to the need to manage workplace psychological health and safety (psychosocial risk).

Despite data pointing to the high incidence of psychosocial hazards in the workplace, South Africa does not have standards that provide guidance on psychological health in the workplace and there are no national standards at present.

The existing standards for occupational health and safety lack clarity around the concepts of psychosocial risks and their management.

Although many factors influence an individual’s psychological make-up, the workplace plays a large part in daily life and is, therefore, important in maintaining and promoting well-being. Both the workplace and the individual have a shared responsibility to maintain and improve well-being, due to the diversity of influences on a person’s psychological well-being.

This new psychosocial risk standard intends to provide systematic guidelines that will enable organisations to promote, develop and continuously improve psychologically safe and healthy work environments for their workers.

This approach focuses on the individual psychological health of workers and includes risks in the workplace that may cause psychological illness and lead to psychosocial issues. It is the intention of this new standard to provide psychologically safe workplaces by considering the exposure to risks that may currently exists in workplace policies, processes, procedures or interactions.

The new standard aims to assist organisations to implement steps for the prevention of psychological illness and promote a healthier workplace.

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