You probably have a good understanding of the risks to your workers’ physical health at work. Manual handling, slips, trips and falls, driving for work and fire risks are just a few physical hazards your organisation may be managing with policies, procedures, training and control measures.
However, you may not have the same risk management measures in place for psychological health and safety risks, known as psychosocial hazards. If this is the case, you could be leaving your people, and your business, exposed.
We all have mental health. Just like our physical health, we need to take care of our mental health and employers need to prioritise health and safety around psychosocial hazards just as they do for physical hazards.
This may involve shifting perspectives from a mindset that sees ‘worker mental health’ as primarily concerned with addressing the mental ill-health of individual workers, and shifting instead to whole-of-organisation approaches.
So, in this insight, we provide a summary of the law and frameworks for best practice to better protect your people and the business from psychosocial hazards.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 stipulates organisations must take care of the health and safety of their people, and this includes psychological health and safety and stress arising from work-related factors. If your organisation does not have an organisational stress risk assessment in place, which you regularly review, you may be in breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
You should also remember you’re legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments if an individual is covered under the Equality Act (where a worker’s symptoms have more than a minor adverse impact on their ability to carry out their day-to-day activities which is likely to be long-lasting). You should develop these adjustments in consultation with workers. Adjustments could include:
But the imperative to act on managing psychosocial hazards is not only legal.
Not taking action to prevent, manage and support workers experiencing stress and poor mental health could be having a sizeable impact on your bottom line. Presenteeism (people working while ill), absence and employee turnover costs U.K. employers up to £53- £56billion.
We’d also argue there’s a moral imperative. In 2021, there were 5,219 suicides in England. For context, this compares with an estimated 1,558 reported road traffic fatalities. We believe organisations have a significant role to play in helping address this and the wider-ranging impacts of managing mental health risk.
Psychosocial hazards are work-related factors which typically include lack of control, poor supervision, customer violence and aggression, and high demands that can affect workers emotions, behaviours, biochemical and neuro-hormonal reactions.
The business risks of your workers being exposed to psychosocial hazards can be far-reaching and can include:
The impact of these hazards can lead to a range of consequences and can expose your organisation reputational and legal risks, including personal injury claims.
Preventing poor mental health at work is about managing psychosocial risks in the workplace, with the World Health Organisation recommending taking action to:
Your business can also manage psychosocial risk by applying best practise such as the guidelines set out in ISO45003, the first occupational health and safety management system for mental health at work.
For WTW, the core principles you need to create positive work environments and promote worker wellbeing are summarised under the following framework:
Underpinning effective psychosocial risk management and protecting worker wellbeing is the need for education to address misconceptions and the resulting stigma surrounding stress and mental health. Organisations doing this successfully embed the realities around mental health into their culture, regular training from the time of onboarding, and policies and procedures. These realities include that:
Businesses that successfully manage worker wellbeing and psychosocial risks understand they need to adopt a whole-of-organisation approach that’s focused on treating employees as individuals, preventing harm and creating a culture in which their employees can thrive.
Whole-of-organisation approaches are analogous to watering and nourishing the soil in which plants grow, rather than treating individual organisms for specific conditions. Similarly, just as you don't wait until someone has a back injury before talking about manual handling, often unknowingly, you could be exposing your employees to conditions that harm their psychological health on a daily basis.
Signs organisations are not adopting genuine whole-of-organisation approaches to employee wellbeing include, for example, high absence, turnover or poor worker relations. In cultures where high levels of stress have become normalised there may also be issues concerning ‘behavioural safety’ which increases the risks of accidents, errors and omissions. It’s also worth saying that only offering workers gestures related to their wellbeing, rather than well-considered policies and resources, may also leave the business open to ‘wellbeing washing’ claims, where its alleged stated attitudes around managing mental health and stress at work don’t match the realities. For example, running schemes like ‘free fruit Fridays’ and only talking about mental health during mental health awareness week but not investing in line manager training to spot the signs of stress and manage psychosocial hazards.
Managing psychosocial risk effectively is not only about minimising damage but maximising opportunities for employees to thrive and in turn improving recruitment and retention. Organisations with a demonstrable and robust approach to worker wellbeing and total rewards are more likely to compete for the loyal workers they require to deliver high quality services and operations and the talent they need for longer-term success.
For specialised support on finding smarter ways to address psychosocial hazards and manage worker wellbeing, get in touch.