A new standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace

Group of three workers laughing together

Psychological health and safety has become an increasingly important consideration for businesses over the last few years. A global pandemic, economic uncertainty, world conflict, and environmental disasters, such as fires and floods, have left many people feeling emotionally spent.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced rapid, sweeping changes in the ways we work. With this came increased feelings of isolation, ambiguity around roles, and increasing emotional pressures and uncertainty around the “new normal.” Working from home opened a new range of psychosocial risk factors, potentially threatening many people’s feelings of psychological safety. This further accelerated the need for organisations to ensure psychologically healthy and safe workplaces for their people.

It’s not only being driven by COVID-19 though; in 2019, CSIRO, Data61, and Safe Work Australia released the Workplace Safety Futures Report, which highlighted 6 mega trends occuring in WHS across Australia. One of these megatrends is the rising issue of workplace stress and mental health issues, with the report citing that,

“Australia’s workforce is registering increasing levels of stress and mental health issues. New and intensifying uses of digital technologies in the workplace may exacerbate problems with mental health and stress, but technology also presents opportunities to manage these issues.[1]https://data61.csiro.au/en/Our-Research/Our-Work/Future-Cities/Planning-sustainable-infrastructure/WorkplaceSafety

In June 2021, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) released ISO 45003:2021 – Occupational health and safety – Psychological Health & Safety at work, Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks.

ISO 45003:2021 is the newest addition to the 45000 OH&S family of standards. Written to support companies with an OH&S management system based on ISO 45001, it provides guidance on managing psychological health in the workplace, defines psychosocial hazards, and provides a structured framework to develop, implement, maintain, and continually improve mental health and psychological safety in the workplace. Applicable to all organisations regardless of size, the standard aims to ensure they create an environment conducive to the physical and mental safety of employees wherever work is being carried out.

The psychosocial hazards defined in ISO 45003:2021 are factors that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm. These may include but are not limited to: 

  • High and low job demands
  • Low recognition and reward
  • Poor workplace relationships and lack of support 
  • Poor environmental conditions 
  • Remote and isolated work

These are just a small number of examples of psychosocial health and safety risks that contribute to poor psychological health & safety outcomes in workplaces. They can be present in any organisation in any industry. 

The poor management of psychosocial health and safety risks can negatively impact employees, organisations, and the community as a whole. Negative outcomes for employees can range from reduced job commitment and satisfaction to poor health conditions (including issues such as anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease to name a few) to other unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet and substance abuse[2]https://www.iso.org/contents/news/2022/04/mental-health-at-work.html. It’s important psychosocial health and safety risks are well-managed to have a positive impact on employees’ overall well-being and performance at work.

In organisations, the impact of psychosocial health and safety risks can include absences, higher staff turnover, reduced product or service quality, more frequent recruitment and training, possible workplace investigations and legal action, as well as potential damage to an organisation’s reputation[3]https://www.iso.org/contents/news/2022/04/mental-health-at-work.html

ISO 45003:2021 helps organisations build a positive working environment that improves organisational resilience and enhances performance and productivity. The Project Leader of the ISO technical committee that developed ISO 45003:2021, Norma McCormick, said, 

“While many have felt powerless about the impact of recent events, there are many things that can be done to build the resilience of staff and promote a strong organisational culture. This standard brings together international best practice in this area and is relevant to companies of all types and sizes.[4]https://www.iso.org/news/ref2677.html

PwC Training Academy is launching ISO 45003 Psychological Health and Safety Risk Management Training this August. To find out more and enroll, please click here


1 https://data61.csiro.au/en/Our-Research/Our-Work/Future-Cities/Planning-sustainable-infrastructure/WorkplaceSafety
2, 3 https://www.iso.org/contents/news/2022/04/mental-health-at-work.html
4 https://www.iso.org/news/ref2677.html

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