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The Importance of Leadership and Worker Participation in Managing Psychosocial Risk in the Workplace

The likelihood of exposure to work-related hazard(s) of a psychosocial nature and the severity of injury and ill-health that can be caused by these hazards is defined as psychosocial risk. That risk has been increasing apace, even before the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the pandemic has turbocharged the threat; what can organisations do to manage it, ensuring wellbeing in the workplace?

Managing psychosocial risk with ISO 45003

Well, best-practice guidance can help. The international standard-making body, the ISO, recently published ISO 45003: 2021, the first standard to tackle psychological health and safety at work directly.

Written to help organisations already using occupational health and safety (OHS) systems based on ISO 45001: 2018 (though applicable to those that don’t), the newer standard provides simple, practical guidance on how to manage the psychosocial hazards that arise in the work environment.

For whom is it useful? The short answer is everyone. Although written to help ISO 45001-compliant organisations, ISO 45003 has practical advice for organisations of all shapes, sizes, and OHS maturity levels, with the following roles likely to benefit the most from adhering to the best-practice standard:

  • Front-line managers
  • HR
  • CEOs & Business owners
  • Boards of directors

Download Guide to Understanding ISO 45003: Psychological Health and Safety at Work

The role of leadership and worker buy-in in managing psychosocial risk

Of course, guidance is one thing. Getting that guidance to stick is something else.

After all, every major organisational initiative needs leadership commitment and worker buy-in, and managing psychosocial risk is no different.

ISO 45003 anticipates this need in a section focused on the role of leadership commitment. In it, senior leaders are called to do the following:

  • Demonstrate leadership and commitment to managing psychosocial risk and to promoting wellbeing at work
  • Identify, monitor, and be aware of its roles and responsibilities with respect to managing psychosocial risks
  • Determine the resources needed and make them available in a timely and efficient manner
  • Reinforce the sustainability of managing psychosocial risk by including it in strategic plans as well as existing systems, processes, and reporting structures
  • Protect workers from reprisals and/or threats of reprisals for reporting incidents, hazards, risks, and opportunities
  • Communicate how whistle blowers, victims, witnesses, and those who report or raise workplace psychosocial risk concerns will be protected
  • Obtain and provide feedback to determine the effectiveness of managing and preventing psychosocial risk within the OHS management system, both in implementation and operation
  • Empower workers and ensure they are competent to fulfil their roles and responsibilities to identify and manage psychosocial risk
  • Remove barriers that can limit worker participation and aim to enhance participation
  • Actively engage workers in a continual dialogue on the management of psychosocial risk
  • Support and encourage workers to actively participate in the management of psychosocial risk in the workplace

That’s not all. Per ISO 45001, senior leadership is already responsible for the well-functioning of the OHS management system. Given this role, senior management must also look to clarify roles, responsibilities, and authorities for managing psychosocial risk in the workplace.

Engaging workers is also a senior leadership responsibility. Guidelines, however, are necessary to garner meaningful participation. Which ones? Beyond the general requirements set forth in ISO 45001, ISO 45003 recommends:

  • Providing opportunities for feedback by workers to help the organisation determine the effectiveness of the management of psychosocial risks
  • Encouraging participation and engagement, e.g., in health and safety committees or peer-to-peer support networks if appropriate to the size and context of the organisation.

The standard also suggests that worker outreach should be ongoing – not just in the planning stages of establishing an OHS system focused on managing psychosocial risks but throughout the lifecycle of wellbeing management, as well.

Is that it? Not exactly. Increasing risks to wellbeing in the workplace mean that simply getting leadership and worker buy-in won’t be enough. That is – not without the right management system guidance. For more on that guidance, download our guide to ISO 45003.

Download Guide to Understanding ISO 45003: Psychological Health and Safety at Work