ISO 45003 – Risk Assessment for Psychological Hazards in the Workplace

ISO 45003 – Risk Assessment for Psychological Hazards in the Workplace

What needs to be included in a risk assessment for psychological hazards in the workplace?

The guidelines in the new ISO 45003 standard on managing psychological risks may help in identifying these types of hazards. ISO 45003 Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety in the workplace – Guidelines – is currently being developed as outlined in a previous blog and provides guidance on managing psychological risks. Organisations need to understand the underlying sources of harm before control measures are considered in order to improve the effectiveness of activities to manage psychosocial risk. The standard provides guidelines for psychosocial risk assessment in Clause 6.1.2 hazard identification and assessment of risks and opportunities, of ISO 45003. Organisations are required to maintain processes for hazard identification that are ongoing and proactive.

The organisation should identify hazards of a psychosocial nature mainly under the following 3 headings:

  • Aspects of how work is organised
  • Social factors at work
  • Work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks

1) Aspects of how work is organised

  • Roles and expectations

Examples of where roles and expectations could be a risk include:

Role ambiguity:

  • role conflict
  • duty of care for other people
  • scenarios where workers do not have clear guidelines on the tasks they are expected to do (and not do)
  • expectations within a role that undermine one another (e.g. being expected to provide good customer service, but also to not spend a long time with customers)
  • uncertainty about, or frequent changes to, tasks and work standards

Job control or autonomy:

  • limited opportunity to participate in decision-making.
  • lack of control over workload
  • low levels of influence and independence (e.g., not being able to influence the speed, order or schedule of work tasks and workload)

Job Demands:

  • underuse of skills
  • continuous work exposure to interaction with people (e.g., the public, customers, students, patients)
  • having too much to do within a certain time or with a set number of workers
  • conflicting demands and deadlines
  • unrealistic expectations of a worker’s competence or responsibilities
  • lack of task variety or performing highly repetitive or meaningless tasks
  • requirements for excessive periods of alertness and concentration
  • working with aggressive or distressed people

Organisational change manage­ment:

  • lack of practical support provided to assist workers during transition periods
  • prolonged restructuring
  • consultation and communication about workplace changes is lacking, of poor quality, untimely or not meaningful

Remote and isolated work:

  • working in locations that are far from home, family, friends and usual support networks (e.g., isolated working or ‘fly-in-fly-out’ work arrangements)
  • working alone in non-remote locations without social/human interaction at work (e.g., working at home)
  • working in private homes (e.g., providing care or domestic roles in other people’s homes)

Workload and work pace:

  • work overload or underload
  • high levels of time pressure
  • continually subject to deadlines
  • machine pacing

Working hours and schedule:

  • lack of variety of work
  • shift work
  • inflexible work schedules
  • unpredictable hours
  • long or unsociable hours
  • fragmented work or work that is not meaningful.

Job security and precarious work:

  • uncertainty regarding work availability
  • non-standard employment that is low paid and/or insecure
  • working in situations that are not properly covered or protected by labour law or social protection

2) Social factors at work

This can include issues such as the following:

Interpersonal relationships:

  • poor communication
  • poor relationships between managers, supervisors, coworkers, and clients or others that workers interact with
  • interpersonal conflict
  • harassment, bullying
  • third party violence

Leadership:

  • lack of clear vision and objectives
  • management style unsuited to the nature of the work and its demand
  • failing to listen or only casually listening to complaints and suggestions
  • withholding information
  • providing inadequate communication and support
  • lack of accountability
  • lack of fairness
  • inconsistent and poor decision-making practices

Organisational/workgroup culture:

  • poor communication
  • low levels of support for problem-solving and personal development
  • lack of definition of, or agreement on, organisational objectives
  • inconsistent and untimely application of policies and procedures, unfair decision making

Recognition and reward:

  • an imbalance between workers’ effort and formal and informal recognition and reward
  • lack of appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of workers’ efforts in a fair and timely manner

Career development:

  • career stagnation and uncertainty, under-promotion or over-promotion, lack of opportunity for skill development

Support:

  • lack of support from supervisors and coworkers, lack of access to support services, lack of information/training, to support work performance

Supervision:

  • lack of constructive performance feedback and evaluation processes
  • lack of encouragement/acknowledgement
  • lack of communication
  • lack of shared organisational vision and clear objectives
  • lack of support and/or resources to facilitate improvements in performance
  • lack of fairness

Civility and respect:

  • lack of trust, honesty, respect, civility, and fairness., lack of respect and consideration in interactions among workers as well as with customers, clients, and the public

Work/life balance:

  • work tasks, roles, schedules or expectations that cause workers to continue working in their own time

Violence at work:

Incidents involving an explicit or implicit challenge to health, safety or well-being at work.  Violence can be internal, external or client initiated, e.g.:

  • abuse, threats, assault (physical or verbal), gender-based violence

Harassment:

This includes unwanted, offensive, intimidating behaviours (sexual or non-sexual in nature) which relate to one or more specific characteristic of the targeted individual, (e.g.  based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age)

 Bullying:

Repeated (more than once) unreasonable behaviours which can present a risk to health, safety and well-being at work.

Behaviours can be overt or covert, e.g.:

  • social or physical isolation
  • assigning meaningless or unfavourable tasks
  • name-calling, insults and intimidation
  • undermining behaviour
  • undue public criticism
  • withholding information or resources critical for one’s job
  • malicious rumours or gossiping
  • assigning impossible deadline

3) Work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks

Work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks include:

  • inadequate equipment availability, suitability or maintenance
  • poor workplace conditions such as lack of space, poor lighting, excessive noise
  • lack of the necessary tools, equipment or other resources to complete work tasks
  • working in extreme conditions or situations, such as very high or low temperatures, or at height
  • working in unstable environments such as conflict zones

An organisation can identify psychosocial hazards in a number of ways for example by:

1)   reviewing job descriptions;

2)   analysing work tasks, schedules and locations;

3)   consulting with workers, clients and other interested parties at regular intervals, including verbally or through documented information;

4)   analysing performance evaluations, worker surveys, standardized questionnaires, audits, etc.;

5)   holding interviews, group discussions or using checklists;

6)   carrying out workplace inspections and observations which help to understand how work is carried out, and how workers interact with one another; or

7)   reviewing relevant documented information such as incident reports, hazard and risk reports, grouped occupational health statistics, workers’ compensation claims, worker surveys, absenteeism and worker turnover data.

Psychosocial hazards often interact with each other and with other types of hazards in the work environment. Human factors also need to be considered and, in some cases, specialised advice or knowledge may be required to identify these hazards.

The ISO 45003 draft international standard (DIS) is currently undergoing the public consultation stage of development and the final version of the standard is expected to be published in July 2021.