In 2003, the International Labour Organisation began observing the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. The day aims to raise the political profile of OH&S issues and, more broadly, global awareness of how to make workplaces safe and healthy for all. Held annually on April 28, the theme for this year’s day is “Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises and invest now in resilient OSH systems”.https://www.un.org/en/observances/work-safety-day
The theme for this year’s day has emerged out of the events of 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a fundamental shift in the way we work. Shifting working arrangements, such as an increase in working from home, have brought new opportunities but also new potential OH&S risks including domestic violence and other psychosocial issues.
ISO has recognised this by increasing their library of OH&S standards with the creation of ISO 45006:2020 Occupational health and safety management – General guidelines for safe working during the COVID-19 pandemic and ISO 45003 Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks (due for release in July).
Released in December 2020, ISO 45006 is designed to aid organisations to manage risks arising from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect workplace-related health, safety and wellbeing. It focuses on safe working during the pandemic, outlining definitive guidelines for specific processes for use during the pandemic. It also provides organisations with practical recommendations on how to manage a safe return to work.
The forthcoming ISO 45003 standard is the first global standard that will give employers guidance on how to protect the psychosocial wellbeing of employees. The standard will focus on identifying the conditions, circumstances and workplace demands that could harm psychological health and wellbeing and how to improve working conditions. The standard defines a psychologically healthy and safe workplace as one that “promotes workers’ psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to psychological health, including in negligent, reckless or intentional ways”.https://www.45003.org/
A recent report from Safe Work Australia (SWA), Data 61 and CSIRO identified six emerging mega-trends in health and safety at work, one of which is the “Rising issue of workplace stress and mental health issues”. According to the Workplace Safety Futures report, “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.”Workplace Safety Futures report pg 4
According to statistics from SWA, 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions (around 6% of workers compensation claims). Approximately $543 million is paid each year in workers compensation for work related mental health conditions. SWA estimates that poor psychological health and safety costs Australian organisations $6 billion per annum in lost productivity.https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/mental-health While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the workplace is yet to be fully explored, this figure is likely to rise.
Many workplaces are now offering their people services such as Mental Health First Aiders and Employee Assistance Programs to assist with mental health issues. ISO, with their development of the new standards, is aiming to provide a framework for organisations to help manage this issue. The Australian Federal Government also recognises mental health as an ongoing issue affecting the community with the investment of $5.7 billion in the 2020-21 budget in this area.https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/budget-2020-21-record-health-and-aged-care-investment-under-australias-covid-19-pandemic-plan
Having a workplace culture that places significance on mental wellness is an important contributing factor in reducing the number of workplace mental health related illnesses. By raising awareness of mental health challenges and taking action to reduce or eradicate them, we can help anticipate, prepare and respond to crises arising out of the global pandemic.
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