01st Oct, 2020 Read time 5 minutes

ISO 45003 and the need for psychological health and safety

This article has been provided by BSI Group and looks at the need for new provisions around psychological health and safety management and the development of ISO 45003.


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 heightened the need for a human-centric 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.

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).

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 is 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.

What is ISO 45003?

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.

ISO 45003 is currently out for public consultation until the 5th of October. Organizations and individuals can review and comment on the draft standard through the BSI Standards Development Portal or a copy can be purchased from the BSI Shop. The final standard is expected to be published in Summer 2021.


HSE Network
Article by: HSE Network

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