Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

ISO45003 can be a springboard for improving employee wellbeing

Out-Law Analysis | 13 Jul 2021 | 11:06 am | 2 min. read

Employers have an opportunity to make significant progress in managing employee wellbeing by adopting the new ISO45003 standard published last month.

The mental health of the workforce has been moving up the board’s agenda in recent years in recognition of the fact that people are often an organisation’s greatest asset, particularly given the impact on people of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions on their daily lives. ISO45003 gives practical guidance for employers on the organisational response to the effective management of ‘psychosocial’ risk. This is therefore a valuable tool and one that employers should get to grips with now to build a resilient business for the future.

What is ISO45003? 

ISO45003 is relevant to organisations of all sizes regardless of which sectors they operate in. The standard does not change underlying legal requirements but instead sets out internationally agreed guidelines for managing psychosocial risk within an occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system based on ISO45001. It aims to help organisations prevent work-related injury and ill health and promote wellbeing at work. 

Bridges Kevin

Kevin Bridges

Partner, Head of Health and Safety

For organisations operating a global business with a footprint in various jurisdictions … ISO45003 presents an opportunity to standardise the approach taken to ensuring employee wellbeing throughout the business

What is its likely impact?

ISO45003 introduces employers to the phrase ‘psychosocial risk’.

Psychosocial hazards relate to how work is organised, social factors at work and aspects of the work environment, equipment and hazardous tasks. Psychosocial risks can affect both psychological health and safety, and health, safety and wellbeing at work more broadly.

ISO45003 gives examples of where psychosocial hazards might arise, as well as a range of control measures that can be used to eliminate hazards or minimise associated risks. It includes information on what is important for organisations to consider in relation to raising awareness of psychosocial risks, developing competence in the management of psychosocial risks, supporting the recovery and return to work of affected workers, and planning for and responding to emergency situations.

ISO45003 is likely to take the management of psychosocial risk way beyond the remit of the traditional OH&S professional. Ownership and visible leadership on this issue starts with senior management with specific provision within the standard for leadership, clarification of organisational roles and communication with the workforce. The factors within the standard that organisations are required to consider during the planning process means that human resources teams and OHS professionals in particular, but also risk managers and in-house legal, will need to collaborate so as to consider the organisational approach to managing this risk and the appropriate allocation of responsibilities.

For organisations operating solely in the UK, ISO45003 is likely to complement the existing management standards published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2004. These help organisations understand what they need to do to assess and manage the risks to employee wellbeing posed by work-related stress. Consequently, the UK now has a well-developed set of regulatory standards in this area. For organisations operating a global business with a footprint in various jurisdictions, and where pre-existing standards such as the management standards don’t exist, ISO45003 presents an opportunity to standardise the approach taken to ensuring employee wellbeing throughout the business.

Actions for employers

Although not mandatory, compliance with ISO45003 is also likely to help persuade regulators, such as the HSE, that an organisation has met its obligations in relation to managing employee health and safety risk. Whilst publication of the standard, of itself, is not likely to shift the dial immediately in terms of the number of investigations or prosecutions, it is likely to require organisations to become more sophisticated at gathering and analysing relevant evidence to match the growing expertise being displayed by the regulators.

As we emerge from the pandemic, organisations should take the opportunity presented by the publication of ISO45003 to conduct an audit to understand where they currently stand in relation to the standard. Organisations will then be able to put in place detailed action plans addressing each aspect of the standard and collate data that will allow them to measure their performance in this important area of safety management.

The need for organisations to take such action is not just a matter of regulatory compliance. This is, fundamentally, a matter of business performance and moral leadership in a challenging global economy.

Co-written by Phil Newton of Pinsent Masons.