Psychosocial health at the fore as employers are urged to ‘connect’ with staff

Out-Law News | 17 May 2022 | 10:27 am |

Zoe Betts tells HRNews about psychological support for employees and ISO 45003

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  • Transcript

    Two-thirds of employees have said they would not feel comfortable raising a mental or emotional wellbeing issue with their employer and that employees are being left to manage wellbeing issues on their own. Employers have been urged to engage in conversations and offer targeted support. We’ll consider that.

    People Management reports on the poll of 8,000 UK adults, conducted by Nuffield Health as part of its Healthier Nation Index report. It found that 66% would not share their mental health struggle with their employer. It also found that whilst 37% of respondents saying their mental health had worsened over the last year, a third were not offered any physical or emotional wellbeing support at the workplace.

    The HSE has launched a campaign aimed at helping businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and understand how to act on them - they want employers to be able to tackle issues as a matter of routine. To that end, they’re calling for a culture change across UK workplaces to ensure psychological risks are treated in the same way as physical risks in health and safety risk management. 

    The campaign highlights the triggers of stress and reminds employers that their legal duty to assess and mitigate workplace risk extends not only to potential hazards and physical safety but also psychological risk.

    ISO 45003 was published back in June last year. We flagged it at the time and advised clients to assess where they currently stand in terms of the risks and mitigations they have in place, benchmarking against the standard.

    So, let’s hear more about this standard and how it helps. Zoe Betts is one of the lawyers in our health and safety team and she joined me by video-link to discuss it. I started by asking about this label ‘psychosocial’ risk, which is a new one to many people:

    Zoe Betts: “Psychosocial risk is a phrase that we wouldn't necessarily have been banding around a few years ago but, again, it's something which has come to the fore and I think it is an understanding that this is not just about somebody's physical safety, there is a lot going on with mental health, and the employer in the workplace is a huge part of that. When you think about how many hours people spend at work then it is incumbent upon the employer to consider what psychological support employees may need. It is also probably relevant to mention that there is a new global standard emerging this year, ISO 45003, and that is the first global standard giving practical guidance and promoting best practice in managing psychological health in the workplace. So that's something that people should be aware of. It's not compulsory, but it is something that businesses may want to look into, or may want to adopt, because it really is a management structure and better regulation for managing that psychosocial risk in the workplace.”

    Joe Glavina: “HSE’s chief executive Sarah Albon is quoted saying ‘there needs to be a culture  change across Britain’s workplaces, to ensure psychological risks are treated the same as physical ones in health and safety risk management.’ I'm assuming you agree with that?"

    Zoe Betts: “I absolutely do, and I've been giving advice to clients for many, many years about improving their health and safety culture in particular. Culture is very difficult to define, it can seem woolly, it’s a bit like nailing jelly to the wall, what is a culture? You tend to know when you see one, especially a bad one, I have to say, but there are some very real and tangible benefits to having a positive health and safety and HR culture and that’s what we talk to our clients about all the time. What you don't want is to be seen as an employer that really doesn't care about its workforce, it just wants to get the product out the door at the end of the day, make the money, make the bottom line. This is about people. This is not fluffy and woolly. This is about your workforce, trying to prevent sick leave, trying to prevent paying out on sick pay and then having to cover those people, trying to retain your talent, trying to time to prevent high turnover. I think, more so than ever, people, when they look for jobs do their research. They look at a company's culture, they look at how that company promotes itself, they will take recommendations and word of mouth and I think it would be very short sighted for an employer to believe that disregarding the workforce’s welfare is a good thing to do and that it's not going to have a negative impact on reputation, because in my view, it absolutely will.”

    Joe Glavina: “Last question Zoe. We know that the HSE frequently uses targeted inspections in order to drive up standards. Have you seen evidence of that?”  

    Zoe Betts: “Yes, I have. I don't want to overstate the issue and I think it's always going to be the case that the Health and Safety Executive will investigate and traditional issues relating to safety and occupational health, whether that's guarding, or work at height, or manual handling, those issues will always be around but I think I am very well placed to comment and I've been giving advice to my clients for some time about the need to consider mental health. There is a lot of guidance out there on stress management and HSE have put a wealth of information on its own website and they will absolutely ask those questions during those targeting inspections that you just referred to. I think, to put this in its proper context, and this is what we say to clients, there is no doubt there won't be a mass of enforcement action or prosecutions, in my view, relating to stress management. I think it's quite difficult to prove because stress in the workplace is so inextricably linked to other issues. It could be difficult from an evidential point of view but that's a different matter. I think when we come back to culture, and actually what the HSE may be looking for to see what steps an employer is taking to safeguard the health and safety and wellbeing of their employees in the round, then they would be really concerned to understand what an employer has done to consider stress and to consider mental health and that will only increase because of the pandemic, these issues have really come to the fore. So, an employer I think would be taking a risk if it turned a blind eye to those sorts of issues. If it doesn't have an answer to the HSE’s questions on stress and mental health I don't think you will be looking at a prosecution but I think you could be looking at an improvement notice and that in itself is serious for many businesses.”

    A final point on ISO 45003. There’s a good article on this which appeared in HR Magazine called ‘Avoiding the pitfalls of ISO 45003 for psychological health, safety and wellbeing at work’. It makes the point that if your business is looking to implement that standard then the chances are that the responsibility for this will have fallen to your HR team, at least in part. If that means you, and you want to read about this new standard for yourself, you can. The ISO’s guidance-note for managing psychosocial risk is available from the ISO website. We have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.

    LINKS
    - Link to ISO 45003:2021