Psychological health and safety at work. Is your organisation doing everything it can?

ISO 45003 is a new international standard that was designed to address a significant gap in current health and safety guidance, psychological health, and safety. This recent addition to the current ISO 45000 group of standards is a proactive attempt to ensure that good mental health and wellness are at the core of any company’s culture.

That old saying that ‘people are the heart of any organisation’ couldn’t be truer, and the current working environment around the world has helped to drive that home to many companies, both large and small. People around the world have moved out of the office and into their homes, and with that move, we have gotten to know the family behind many of our colleagues through Zoom meetings and conference calls.

This has led to the recognition that we’re all people. We all lead busy and complicated lives trying to balance work, family, friends, and other commitments. For many people, it’s a balancing act with a lot of moving parts, and if it isn’t managed correctly, it can all come tumbling down.

The recognition of this has helped to contribute to a large shift towards a more human approach to managing risks in and outside of the workplace. The workplace is no longer just an office or building that we drive to. Instead, a workplace is where the workers are, and that could be a home, café, another state, or even another country. Technology allows us to work remotely while still accomplishing our goals, and many companies are moving towards a more balanced approach to how they allow their employees to work.

We are seeing a new approach to managing risks and how we define the word risk in relation to work health and safety. Much in the same way that physical ill health could impact someone’s ability to do their work safely, psychological ricks can be just as dangerous and even harder to detect.

While some organisations have seen the need to increase their recognition of psychosocial risks and how they manage them inside and outside of the workplace, the lack of any type of official framework has left many smaller organisations unsure about how to correctly respond to and manage mental health issues.

That’s where ISO 45003 steps in. ISO 45003 is designed to fill this gap in work health and safety guidance by supplying companies with clear advice and support for managing their psychosocial risks within an established work health and safety framework.

Before we dive deeper into ISO 45003 and why it’s proving so popular, let’s take a closer look at why it’s needed in the first place.

The Current Climate – A Mental Health and Wellness Emergency

Even before the COVID-19 global pandemic began to unfold in 2020, we were facing an unclear and ever-worsening mental health crisis. Mental health was wreaking havoc with many businesses facing increasing pressure to find a solution to assist them with better managing mental health issues in the workplace.

Mental health has far-reaching consequences than just the business it affects. Did you know:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that poor mental health currently costs the global economy more than US$1 Trillion annually in lost production.
  • The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) found that burnout, depression, stress, and anxiety, along with other psychosocial risks in the workplace, are not only expensive for employers and employees but also society and are estimated to exceed over 4% of GDP.
  • Societal and technological work-related transformations are having a huge impact on people’s life experiences. As a result, a strong decline in psychological and also emotional wellbeing is affecting the wider global risk climate.

For years no psychological health and safety in the workplace has been reviewed and debated. Still, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the issues facing companies worldwide and brought this to the forefront of world leaders’ attention.

While the pandemic still rages unchecked in many countries and in other areas, vaccine rollouts are in full swing in others. We still haven’t got a complete picture of just how far-reaching the consequences of COVID-19 are on mental health and safety. Some people have gone as far as describing the pandemic as a mental health emergency, unlike anything we have faced before.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 1 in 5 people has reported symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression. This is double what was previously reported in a previous study. However, an additional study that was conducted by The Health Foundation found that the numbers were actually closer to 70% and that anxiety, stress, and boredom were the driving forces behind mental health issues.

This strain on mental health and wellness is being further piled on by many of the social distancing restrictions that workplaces have had to implement because of the pandemic. As a result, colleagues are experiencing less social interaction, not only between them and co-workers but also clients. With everyone focused on socially distancing and staying away, it’s making it increasingly difficult to identify employees that are struggling with their mental health until it’s often too late.

What Is the New ISO 45003 Standard?

ISO 45003 is the first global standard that will give guidance on managing psychological risks in the workplace. Rather than providing official accreditation, ISO 45003 will provide companies with guidance on the requirements of ISO 45003 with respect to managing their psychological health and safety risks in conjunction with a broader occupational health and safety management framework.

A psychologically healthy and safe business or workplace is defined as the following: “A workplace which promotes workers psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to psychological health, including reckless, negligent, or intentional ways.

ISO 45003 will help organizations and companies achieve this by building on what is already covered in ISO 45001 by identifying the circumstances, conditions, and workplace demands that could potentially hinder or impart psychological wellbeing and health and also identify how to improve the working environment.

ISO 45003 covers the following:

  • Guidance– Guidance on how companies can recognize any psychological hazards or risks that could potentially affect workers, including issues that arise when employees are working remotely from home.
  • Examples– Examples of effective and simple actions that companies and organizations can take to manage risks and improve the overall wellbeing of their employees.

What does ISO 45003 really stand for? It stands for a solid shift away from where psychological initiatives are being used reactively and will encourage organizations and companies to take a proactive approach to create preventative measures to ensure that the majority of psychological issues never happen in the first place.

Who Should Be Looking at Adopting ISO 45003?

The short answer: everyone should be looking at adopting ISO 45003. This new standard will help by providing companies and organizations with relevant guidance that will consistently deliver measurable benefits regardless of what your current ISO 45001 status is.

  • ISO 45003 is designed to be a stand-alone standard. Still, it will also reach into those companies and organizations that are currently undergoing ISO 45001 or anyone that is using an occupational health and safety management system which is based on the ISO 45001.

Many experts have noted that if your company is currently doing ISO 45001, then applying many of the key elements from ISO 45003 will help you achieve your goals.

What are some of the benefits of psychological health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Apart from the obvious benefits of having a healthier and happier workforce of employees that enjoy going to work, managing psychological risks has a flow-on effect on almost every area of your business. Many of the benefits are well documented and include the following:

  1. Increased innovation
  2. Better reliability, productivity, and work performance
  3. Improved health and safety, wellbeing, and security
  4. Increased employee recruitment and retention, and reduced recruitment costs
  5. Improved company reputation
  6. An overall boost in employee satisfaction
  7. Reduced lost working time and absenteeism
  8. Increased profitability and an overall improvement to the bottom-line

What are some of the risk factors associated with poor or low workplace psychological health and wellness?

As we all know, there are a variety of different challenges associated with successfully managing psychological risks in the workplace, which include:

  • Many companies currently view mental initiatives as a ‘nice thing to have’ rather than a necessary part of their mental health and wellness plan.
  • There is a common belief that psychological risks are irrelevant to the overall safety of the company and its workforce.
  • There is a tendency for companies to focus on health promotion while also skipping the first and most crucial step in the process, which is prevention.
  • Senior management has developed an unhealthy pattern of avoiding early interaction in favor of a more ‘hands off’ approach to mental health and wellbeing issues.
  • Many organizations and their health and safety representatives are lacking the competency required to identify potential psychological hazards and risks.
  • A failure to have a complete and systematic approach to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

The new ISO 45003 standard is specifically designed to correct and address all of the challenges that we have spoken about above. A large part of ISO 45003 is concerned with managing all of the psychological risks facing a workplace or company, and a significant part of that comes from the early identification of risk factors including:

  • Unfair treatment
  • Excessive workloads
  • Unfulfilling work
  • Discrimination in the workplace
  • Poor physical working environments
  • High demand and low control

When employees are facing excessive stress in the workplace and not enough stimulation, it can severely impact psychological health. Small amounts of stress can help to increase productivity, but too much stress can have a serious negative mental health impact on employees.


ISO 45003 – How Can It Help My Organisation? – Conclusion

Communication and facilitating an upfront, honest, and open culture in your workplace where your employees feel empowered enough to speak up about their mental health struggles is crucial to any business. Long gone should be the days where employees feel too scared of potential negative ramifications for speaking up.

For many of the health and safety professionals worldwide, the area of psychological health and wellbeing is a very new area. Any changes to mental health and safety in the workplace are going to be slow, but there is a definite need for us all to start taking proactive steps to correct it.

At Lumien, we are standing by to help your organisation or company with its mental health and wellbeing. We understand that the process of getting your company in compliance with ISO 45003 can be a long and arduous journey. However, it’s not a journey that you need to undertake alone.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about ISO 45003, then please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us directly. Our friendly and professional team is standing by to assist you with your mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.