Global standard for mental health at work

The first global standard to help employers manage psychosocial hazards at work is due to arrive this summer.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) spoke out earlier this month to welcome the impending arrival of ISO 45003 “as a proactive attempt to make good mental wellbeing part of a company’s culture.”

The world’s leading body in workplace safety and health said the new standard was “eagerly awaited.”

Its arrival will coincide with the continued controlled easing of national lockdown restrictions that have been in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with many businesses once again adapting their practices to enable more face-to-face interaction to resume within the workplace.

A standard to manage psychosocial risks

ISO 45003 will provide employers with practical guidance on how to manage psychosocial hazards for their staff in the workplace.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines psychosocial risk as any risk related to how work is managed and organised, from social aspects to elements of the workplace environment and any hazardous tasks.

It is believed that such psychosocial hazards are present in all kinds of workplaces and every industry sector, and stem from all kinds of employment arrangements.

These psychosocial hazards can result in employees experiencing stress, fatigue or even bullying and harassment. If left unchecked, these can all lead to serious mental health problems.

An extension of workplace health and safety

The new global standard can be seen as an extension of ISO 45001, the established global standard designed to help employers manage the risks of work-related injuries and ill-health and to provide safe and healthy workplaces.

ISO 45003 builds on this purpose to define 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.”

Stavroula Leka, Professor of Work Organisation and Wellbeing at the Business School of University College Cork and co-convener of the working group responsible for developing ISO 45003, explained:

“With mounting data that poor work organisation, design and management is associated with poor mental health, absenteeism, presenteeism and human error, it was felt that a specific guidance standard on psychosocial risks was needed.”

She assured businesses that the new standard was “not trying to turn line managers into psychologists,” but rather that it was “about how organisations create a positive psychosocial environment. It’s guidance for designing work in a more preventative way so that psychological ill-health issues don’t arise.”

Meanwhile, IOSH’s Head of Advice and Practice, Duncan Spencer, commented:

“We very much welcome ISO 45003 as a proactive attempt to make good mental wellbeing part of a company’s culture. For too long, organisations have focussed predominantly on treating the symptoms of mental ill health in the workplace; this new standard is an important step towards addressing the causes of it too. Protecting the mental wellbeing of staff is vital in building a resilient and sustainable organisation.”

IOSH’s President, Jimmy Quinn, admitted that there was “still plenty to do to convince employers they need to take a ‘prevention first’ approach to managing mental health and wellbeing but the good news is there’s a growing amount of support out there from bodies such as IOSH, including affordable advice and training, while initiatives like ISO 45003 will undoubtedly help.”

Line managers need support like ISO 45003

In March 2019, a research study carried out by IOSH in partnership with Management Today revealed that two thirds of line managers felt they were not receiving enough support and training to enable them to protect the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

It also found that 80% of workers feared stigmatisation and being seen as incompetent in their role if they opened up to their line manager about experiencing mental health problems.

The study findings led IOSH to develop a white paper which provided guidance on the role of line managers in promoting positive mental health at work.

Shifting from a reactive approach to mental health at work

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading, national training provider delivering a wide and diverse range of training courses.

They can provide training in the fields of health and safety, first aid, fire safety, food hygiene, safeguarding, mental health, health and social care and other specialist subjects.

Their specialist mental health training range includes Understanding Mental Health, Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace, Managing Stress in the Workplace, Anxiety Awareness, Self-Harm Awareness and Suicide Awareness.

They can also provide externally accredited trainers to deliver Mental Health First Aid England training courses, including Adult, Youth, Champion and Lite versions.

A trainer from FRT says: “As we hopefully continue to recover from the pandemic and return to some sort of normal, mental health and wellbeing needs to be high on the agenda for everyone.

“The government has promised to improve mental health support as part of their efforts to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic, but employers also need to look at what they can do to promote and support positive mental health and wellbeing among their employees.

“As with most things, prevention is better than cure and it’s important that we really shift from a reactive approach when it comes to protecting our mental health.

“Training can really help with this; our mental health training courses include content on supporting your mental health at all times, and building emotional resilience.”

For more information about the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to [email protected]