Psychosocial risks and worker well-being

Psychosocial risks and worker well-being

Every worker deserves a safe and secure working environment, but despite the attention given to occupational health and safety (OHS), eliminating psychosocial hazards and related risks remains a challenge. Consequently, the impact of these risks is felt not only in households, but also across organisations.

There are many tools and best practices devoted to employee well-being in the workplace. The focus of this article is to provide an insight into ISO 45003:2021 Occupational health and safety management — Psychological health and safety at work — Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks. The guidelines can be applied by any organisation. Incidentally, ISO 45003:2021 can be used together with ISO 45001:2018 Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use.

What is psychosocial risk and well-being at work?

ISO 45003:2021 defines psychosocial risk as a “combination of the likelihood of occurrence of exposure to work-related hazard(s) of a psychosocial nature and the severity of injury and ill-health that can be caused by these hazards”. Furthermore, well-being at work is the “fulfilment of the physical, mental, social and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work”.

Getting started with ISO 45003:2021

Organisations need to plan how they will manage psychosocial risk as well as promote well-being at work. The starting point for any organisation is to assess its internal and external environment. This acts as a foundation that can direct how psychosocial risks will be managed in the occupational health and safety management systems (OH&SMS) framework. The needs and expectations of workers and relevant interested parties should be taken into account, while any operations and activities within the scope of an organisation’s OH&SMS should also be considered as part of the management of psychosocial risk.

Lead and engage the workers

Top management has an obligation in supporting the management of psychosocial risk. They need to take charge, while respective managers and workers help with implementation. Top management can also demonstrate their commitment by providing resources, while it is essential that these managers ensure clarity regarding the roles, responsibilities, and authorities related to managing psychosocial risk.

Depending on the size of the organisation, health and safety committees can provide a good environment for consultations with, and the participation of, workers and/or their representatives. In order to receive support and cooperation from workers, timely feedback should be provided detailing the effectiveness of the management of psychosocial risks.

The exercise to “understand the organisation and its context” should cover internal and external issues that will be critical for the management of psychosocial risk. Risks and opportunities should therefore be evaluated and assessed, with appropriate actions implemented on “the assessment of psychosocial risks”.

The ISO 45003:2021 guideline includes detailed tables outlining examples of psychosocial hazards. According to the guideline, these fall into the following categories: a) aspects of how work is organised; b) social factors at work; and c) work environment, equipment, and hazardous tasks.

Allocate resources

The allocation of resources is crucial to ensure the effective management of psychosocial risk, and provides an indication of management’s accountability for, and commitment to, the management of psychosocial risk in the workplace. It is also important that organisations establish the competence levels of personnel to deal with these risks.

The OH&SMS framework requires the retention of relevant documented information, such as those related to the management of psychosocial risk. The same applies to the defined roles, responsibilities, and authorities. The outcomes of any psychosocial risk assessments conducted also need to be kept on record. Psychosocial issues often tend to be a sensitive subject, so it is necessary to safeguard relevant confidential information.

Plan, manage, and control operations

Organisations should plan and manage operations and activities in line with their OH&SMS goals and targets. The aim is to “eliminate hazards and minimise psychosocial risk”. The ISO 45003:2021 guideline outlines some levels of intervention in managing psychosocial risk. This also includes psychosocial risk control measures relating to “social factors, the work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks”.

Depending on your environment, psychosocial risks may be unavoidable. If there are changes in the workplace, interventions to manage these changes – and any associated impacts on the well-being of workers – ought to be implemented and maintained. An example of change is when an organisation starts to outsource certain products and services. It should be noted that the implementation of the OH&SMS does not mean that emergencies will never occur.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, rehabilitation and return to work programmes are considered a new norm in many workplaces. Guidelines have been developed and maintained to protect any persons involved, as detailed in Safe return to work: Guide for employers on Covid-19 prevention, an informative resource published by the International Labour Organization.

Evaluate OH&SMS performance

Monitoring and measurement are key components of an effective OH&SMS. Organisations should define the respective methods implemented to monitor, measure, analyse, and evaluate how psychosocial risk is managed. Internal audits form an integral part of the OH&SMS. The guideline does not specify the frequency of audits to be conducted, but it is recommended that psychosocial risk be considered when making this decision.

The outcome of the internal audit findings will indicate the “effectiveness of the management of psychosocial risks”.  This can be used to keep top management abreast of OH&SMS performance, including the management of psychosocial risk. Improvement opportunities, incidents, nonconformities, and corrective action in respect to psychosocial risk should all be monitored.

Maak ‘n plan (make a plan)

Does your organisation tolerate psychosocial risks and their associated costs? The answer will vary depending on your setting, but we need to recognise that psychosocial risks do affect our well-being, whether directly or indirectly. The good news is that when these risks are effectively managed, the well-being of workers will be enhanced.

It is time to “maak ‘n plan” on how your organisation will manage psychosocial risks in your workplace.

Published by

Hope Kiwekete

Hope Mugagga Kiwekete is a managing consultant at the Centre for Enterprise Sustainability. Previously he was a principal risk management consultant at Transnet Freight Rail and a management systems specialist and senior EHS auditor at the South African Bureau of Standards. He has practised as a management systems consultant, trainer and auditor in the fields of risk management, environment, energy, occupational health and safety and quality management in various industry sectors in eastern and southern Africa and Southeast Asia.
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