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What is ISO 45003? Occupational Health and Safety Management — Psychological Health and Safety at Work

Explore ISO 45003 and its significance in promoting psychological health and safety in the workplace. Learn about its key principles and benefits for organisations.

What is ISO 45003? Occupational Health and Safety Management — Psychological Health and Safety at Work
Photo by Brooke Cagle / Unsplash

Change is coming. Employee rights, safety and wellbeing are being strengthened and prioritised in the workplace. Globally, across all industries, employees are expecting a level of care and support from their employer.

And employers have to come to the party too. If you don’t, employees, especially the younger generation, are increasingly unafraid to leave their jobs if work conditions don’t suit them. Health and safety legislation is being introduced by governments and employee mental health is an issue all employers are wrestling with regardless of regulation.

Published in June 2021, ISO 45003 is an international standard on psychological health and safety at work. It has a raft of guidelines for employers to help ensure the mental health and wellbeing of their staff consistent with more traditional physical health and safety risks.

No demographic is immune to mental health challenges, and each demographic has their own unique challenges. It’s more important than ever that businesses understand the expectations and their role in protecting their staff’s mental wellbeing and aligning to ISO 45003 is a good start.

Key Definitions

ISO 45003 directly addresses psychological health and safety at work and provides best practice guidelines for employers to manage their psychosocial risks.

- ISO 45003:

  • Defines workplace wellbeing as the “fulfilment of the physical, mental, social and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work”.
  • Relates to all aspects of working life, including work organisation, social factors at work, and work environment and hazardous tasks.
  • Can also contribute to the quality of life outside of work.

ISO 45003 is intended to be used alongside its parent standard, ISO 45001, which takes a broad look at health and safety at work. ISO 45003 identifies common psychosocial hazards and goes deeper into specific mental wellbeing practices that should be introduced to manage these risks. It recognises that workplaces have a huge impact on their staff’s mental state, and therefore makes employers responsible for creating a psychologically safe environment.

What does “psychosocial hazard” even mean? In this context, the term psychosocial hazard refers to how work is organised, the social environment of the workplace, and other aspects such as hazardous tasks and equipment safety.

These hazards then create a “psychosocial risk” that results in a negative impact on both the individual’s health and safety as well as the organisation’s performance and sustainability.

You know you have a psychologically safe workplace when an employee feels that they can raise issues without fear of penalisation and that actions would be taken in a timely manner to address the issues raised. Once that happens, you will see the more positive aspect of psychological safety which is the contribution of new ideas and feedback that will lead to stronger collaboration and innovation.

ISO standards are being referred to by national regulators in developing regulations, and so it is beneficial to understand what it comprises to better understand your duties in meeting your current (or soon to come) local workplace health and safety laws.

Why this matters

One of the most important mental leaps that businesses need to make in adopting ISO 45003 best practice measures is the idea of it being an investment rather than a cost.

In saying that, the cost is not insignificant, with Safe Work Australia reporting $900+ million a year going to workers compensation due to work-related mental health injuries. Globally, the World Health Organisation says 12 billion working days are lost to depression and anxiety every year.

All over the world, money spent on mental health and wellbeing measures has been shown time and time again to pay off in spades.

  • Xero research found New Zealand small businesses can see a return of up to 12x their investment in company-wide wellbeing initiatives.
  • PwC in Australia found every dollar spent on an effective mental health initiative generated an average benefit of $2.30.
  • Deloitte found Canadian businesses with mental health programmes less than three years old had a median ROI of $1.62, rising to $2.18 for those three years and older.
  • In the UK, Deloitte found employers get an average return of £5 for every £1 spent on employee mental health.

There are many more examples that reinforce this now undeniable point.

Not only do you benefit your bottom line, but you have happier, more productive people that stay in your business longer. You find it easier to attract quality talent, because word gets around that you’re a good employer. Staff are engaged, motivated and work well together.

Many well-intentioned businesses take it upon themselves to create and administer their own wellness programmes, and they often miss the mark. ISO 45003 gives you a roadmap that helps to identify and manage your biggest risks, and build on your strengths to maximise the benefit to your staff (and, as a result, your business).

So what does ISO 45003 contain?

To get a full look at ISO 45003, you have to buy it. You can purchase it here.

While we can’t show you exactly what it looks like, we can give you a high-level summary on what is covered. Ultimately, it provides a framework to assess the psychosocial risks in your workplace and put in place a wellbeing plan to minimise, mitigate or eliminate them.

Firstly, you need to find a way to collect data that helps you understand what level of support your people need that is not currently being met. Many workplaces collect staff feedback through engagement surveys, but these surveys aren’t overly reliable.

Your responsibility as an employer is to ensure that your people are not being exposed to psychological health and safety risks at both the work environment as well as the conduct of employees, including leaders and managers.

Common psychosocial hazards tend to be impacted by your organisational design. Examples include

1. Aspects of how work is organised

• Roles and expectations (job clarity)

• Job control or autonomy

• Job demands

• Organisational change management

• Remote and isolated work

• Workload and work pace

• Working hours and schedule

• Job security and precarious work

2. Social factors at work

• Interpersonal relationships

• Leadership

• Organisational/workgroup culture

• Recognition and reward

• Career development

• Level of support available

• Supervision

• Civility and respect

• Work/life balance

• Violence or traumatic events at work

• Harassment

• Bullying and victimisation (social exclusion)

Signs your people are struggling:

  • Absenteeism
  • Poor sleep
  • Fatigue
  • High stress and burnout
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Physical health conditions eg. Cardiovascular disease
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor diet
  • Uncontrolled anger and emotional outbursts
  • Self harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Withdrawal from social activities

Generally speaking, only managers and leaders are able to address these hazards because they require specific wellbeing strategies and policies. However, you need to engage staff to both recognise issues and develop effective plans to address them.

Once the wellbeing plan is put in place to address the psychosocial risks identified, then you need to demonstrate what support the plan offers your people. Generally speaking, 60% of the issues people have relate to their personal lives, while 40% are work-related.

Either way these issues will impact someone’s work life., Having personalised support is key in ensuring your solution is clinically effective. EAP providers like Clearhead provide effective customised support by giving staff control of their wellbeing – they can select their own therapist, use tools in their own time and proactively build mental skills and resilience.

For some employees, their mental health would be affected to the point that they need to take time off from work. It is key for workplaces to have a framework on how to manage the employee to rehabilitate and help them return to work. This framework should include what the direct manager and any affected colleagues need to do to support both the employee and themselves.

Systemic change

Psychosocial risks are often the result of workplace culture, and addressing them requires constant monitoring by your leaders. Management and Board should have regular updates on how well you’re addressing psychosocial risks. Getting good data reports is key. The frequency and level of details in the reporting will depend on how large your workplace is, and the way you gather information. For example, Clearhead aggregates and anonymises the data of employees that reaches out to Clearhead for support and allows the report provided to have a more authentic view of the specific work-related issues the organisation is facing.

The main intention of the reporting should be around monitoring, measuring and evaluating the workplace’s performance in systemically reducing these risks. Each workplace will be different. It’s also a balance of prioritising psychosocial hazards that impact the largest number of employees, while considering factors that disproportionately affect minorities.

To ensure that you’re reaching all your employees, it is crucial to communicate the importance of mental health at work, and let people know the support that’s available. Often people get busy and deprioritise taking action to proactively maintain their wellbeing.

Role modelling of positive wellbeing habits by leaders and managers is one of the most effective ways to show its importance. Leaders can do things like creating weekly check in rituals during group or 1:1 meetings, or using tools like a mood tracker or actively demonstrating self care.

How do you use ISO 45003?

ISO 45003 doesn’t have an official certification or compliance checks. It doesn’t provide specific metrics or targets to aim for, but it does give general guidance in assessing, monitoring and improving various aspects of your workplace.

The idea is it provides a framework to complete a thorough assessment of your business, and then show the way forward. It helps to identify your biggest risks and highlight where you can make the most investment for the benefit of your staff.

Clearhead x ISO 45003

Clearhead is an innovative employee wellbeing platform that empowers employees to proactively manage their mental health and wellbeing 24/7 through a website or an app. Whether it’s self-help to develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence or getting timely access to high quality mental health professionals for support, it is always just a click away.

Clearhead uses the best practice guidelines laid out in ISO 45003 to complete an expert analysis of your business based on your employees’ usage of the online platform.

Clearhead provides you an independent mechanism where staff trust they can be honest with what is affecting their mental health at work and get the support they need. What you receive is a valuable, authentic perspective that identifies the psychosocial hazards in your specific workplace, benchmarked against industry norms.

Clearhead’s workplace assessments help to identify and mitigate psychosocial hazards and risks that are unique to your organisation, and provide you best practice recommendations on targeted interventions you can take for maximum benefit.

If you're interested in strengthening your workplace EAP and putting in place the components needed to satisfy the criteria laid out in ISO 45003, book a demo with the Clearhead team today and see how it can support your employees to thrive.

If you are not in immediate danger but require crisis support:  mentalhealth.org.nz
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Kids Helpline
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If you are not in immediate danger but require crisis support:  healthdirect.gov.au