01st Oct, 2020 Read time 3.5 minutes

ISO 45003 and the need for psychological health and safety

ISO 45003 is a new standard that aims to provide better support around the issue of psychological health and safety in the workplace. 2020 was a year in which many people and organisations felt under pressure to cope with the stresses of working life. This has shown the need for a formal structure around managing mental and psychological health in the workplace.

In late 2020, HSE Network sat down with Kate Field of the BSI Group to discover more about why the new ISO standard is needed.

People are the foundation of any organization: without your workers, nothing gets done. Without your partners in the supply chain, things grind to a halt. Without your clients, there is simply no business. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to reprioritise a human-centered approach.


The pandemic has strengthened the need for ISO 45003 and a human-centred approach


Indeed, being ‘human’ is perhaps one of the biggest benefits that the pandemic has brought us. For those of us who have been working from home – our bosses have met our kids, cats, dogs and in turn, we have seen our boss’s range of rock t-shirts (who knew?!), as well as meeting their kids, cats, dogs. This recognition, that we are all human and have lives outside of work, has done a lot to create a more human-centered culture.

There has also been a greater degree of collaboration, particularly for those organizations where home working is not an option and the thoughts, views, and concerns of workers are sought (and given) in a way that traditional consultation and participation mechanisms may have failed to achieve.

BSI Group

There has also been a greater awareness of psychological health and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having. Psychological health and well-being has long been a major issue in the workplace, with stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression costing economies billions and resulting in high levels of long-term sickness absence and consequent disruption. It is an area of OH&S management which many organizations feel inadequately equipped to deal with, and too often has been dealt with in a superficial way (provision of yogurt and yoga), a reactive way (mental health first aid), or completely ignored (people are just whinging and should ‘man’ up).

What are psychosocial risks?
2 minutes 31 seconds
COVID has increased the focus on psychological health
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought psychological health and well-being to the forefront of leaders’ attention in a way that has simply not happened before.

There is an increasing understanding that no matter the size or shape of their organization, they are likely to be facing complex health and well-being issues now and well into the future. And critically, unless they are managed effectively, they will have serious implications for those who are already struggling to deal with the general uncertainty, economic disruption, and changing ways of working that the pandemic has brought.

The psychological health and well-being of workers are foundational for resilience and sustainability. For long-term success, an organization needs to address the root causes of psychological ill-health and recognize that people’s work and home life are not inseparable. Organizations need to recognise that psychological health and well-being is a multi-faceted issue, that needs a holistic and joined-up approach, bringing together multi-discipline teams including HR, H&S, and occupational health.

All this has contributed to the need for better psychological health and safety management within the workplace. This is what the new ISO 45003 intends to achieve through proper regulation and the promotion of best practices in the profession.


What is ISO 45003?

ISO 45003 is a new global standard that intends to give practical steps and methods of best practice for managing psychological health within the workplace. It will include rules around the management of psychological risk and incorporate it into a health, safety and wellbeing program.

ISO 45003, Occupational health and safety management — Psychological health and safety at work: managing psychosocial risks — Guidelines (the first global standard giving practical guidance on managing psychological health at work) defines wellbeing at work as “fulfillment of the physical, mental and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work”. Fulfillment can be defined as “the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted”.

Physical, mental, and cognitive needs and expectations mean that not only should we be kept healthy and safe at work but we should have the capacity to learn, develop and flourish; and we should not be kept from this through discrimination, bullying or harassment.

We should be seen as a human with lives outside of work and the need to have a suitable balance between the two. It is also not enough to dismiss the psychological effects of, for example, trauma, long term illness, or bereavement, as not work-related. They impact on people’s ability to work effectively. Equally, an organization’s approach to getting people back to work and how they are expected to work will impact their well-being outside of work – making the cycle of ill-health continue.

ISO 45003 includes information on how to recognize the psychosocial hazards that can affect workers and offers examples of effective – often simple – actions that can be taken to manage these. It recognizes that many organizations don’t have specialist, trained workers to manage psychological health and that it needs to be dealt with by people doing all sorts of other primary roles.

ISO 45003 is written to help organizations using an OH&S management system based on ISO 45001, Occupational Health and Safety, although it will also be useful for organizations that have not yet implemented an OH&S management system. In ISO 45001 there are already requirements around managing psychosocial risk and protecting mental health. ISO 45003 provides the tools to enable you to do this and take a leap forward in becoming a more sustainable and resilient organization.


Update on the current stage of ISO 45003

Updated: ISO 45003 has passed the public consultation period and the publication is now freely available and will go into a review and withdrawal period.


ISO 45003

© ISO.org



Useful ISO 45003 resources

The new ISO 45003 standard is seen by many as a long-overdue look at psychological health and safety. Whilst there are plenty of ISO standards that look at the physical aspects of health and safety management, little has been done to provide a guided framework around how organisations can protect their employees mentally.

If you want to learn more about what ISO 45003 means for the health and safety industry, we have linked some useful resources that will help give you a better understanding of the process:


Here you can get a full understanding of the ISO standard creation process 

ISO standards (2021) https://www.iso.org/standard/64283.html

Find out what the new standard means in practice 

45003 (2021) https://www.45003.org/

Learn more about the current management standards on stress in the UK 

Health and Safety Executive (2021) https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/


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About the Author

Kate Field: Global Head Health, Safety and Wellbeing at BRITISH STANDARDS INSTITUTION


Kate Field is the Global Head of Health, Safety, and Wellbeing at BSI Group. Kate leads the business development for BSI’s health safety and wellbeing portfolio and is an industry expert on psychological health and safety and ISO 45003.

Kate champions the business benefits of developing trust in an organisation and we are pleased to have her as a contributor for HSE Network.


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