ISO45003 is Guidance standard only unlike it’s parent, ISO45001, which is Certifiable standard.  And never before has there been a more important time to have an international standard to address mental health in the workplace with the effect that the Covid pandemic has had on employees everywhere.  There are so many statistics about the increase of employees reporting mental issues such as depression, anxiety, stress and burnout, and loss of working days as a result must have cost billions of rands / euros / dollars across the globe.

The purpose of ISO45003 is to help employers understand and manage the psychosocial risks that are found in workplaces regardless of the industry or size of the organization.  While risks of physical injury vary a great deal depending on the nature of the industry, psychosocial risks prevail across the board.  For example, working at heights is a risk for construction companies in that workers could fall and sustain serious physical injury, but this is an unlikely risk in the banking industry.  Exposure to chemicals is a risk for some manufacturing companies, in that excessive inhalation could result in serious respiratory illness for employees, but it is highly unlikely to be a risk requiring intervention in the legal industry.  The risk of psychological harm to employees as a result of psychosocial hazards such as poor communication, unfairness, unrealistic demands and deadlines, interpersonal conflict, job and role ambiguity, lack of autonomy, monotony, and the list goes on and on, can be present to some extent in every single workplace regardless of the nature of business.  Psychosocial risks, unlike physical risks, are not industry related.   

Integral to the successful identification, assessment and management of psychosocial risks in the workplace is the involvement of top management as well as consultation with the workforce.  Top management has a major role to play when it comes to policies and procedures, as well as ensuring that necessary resources are catered for.  Consultation with the workforce is absolutely essential in gaining insights into the presence of the risks throughout the company – what the CEO identifies is often very different to what the employees on the floor identify. 

Employee surveys can be useful as part of the workforce consultation phase.  It’s worthwhile considering outsourcing the workforce consultation phase in order to stand the best chance of honesty, therefore, reliability.  Employees, especially in 2022 on the back of a job threatening pandemic, may not be willing to voice dissatisfaction with the current psychosocial state of affairs to their seniors at work, as they may perceive this as placing their job in further jeopardy than it may already be.  An outsourced Practitioner would be able to maintain employee anonymity while still providing you with the insights that you require in developing a Mental Health and Safety plan.

Once the psychosocial risks have been identified, controls need to be put in place to manage them.  The best control measure is always elimination of the hazard/risk, but complete elimination is rarely possible, just as elimination of working at heights cannot be implemented in construction companies.  The next most effective control that can be put in place is to engineer a way around them as best as possible so as to limit the likelihood of harm being caused by the hazard/risk.  For example, while exposure to potentially violent customers in the workplace cannot be eliminated in a retail environment, additional security personnel can be present in the store or an on-line system of handling customer complaints can be implemented and promoted.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that implementation of the guidelines set out in ISO45003 is not the same as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  An EAP is in fact a type of secondary intervention for employees following exposure to one or more psychosocial risks.  Another type of secondary intervention is mental health / illness awareness training, which assists workers and leaders in identifying and understanding when psychosocial risks are having adverse effects at work.  Primary interventions are put in place in organisations to offer optimal protection against the psychosocial risks, such as allowing flexible working hours and ensuring reasonable deadlines, while tertiary interventions are there to reduce the severity of the effects following exposure – these interventions are the most intense and include rehabilitation and return-to-work management.  Ideally, with adequate primary and secondary interventions in place, the need for tertiary interventions will be greatly reduced.

If you would like assistance with mental health and safety management for your organisation, or training on mental health awareness for your leaders and employees, please get in touch for a chat  


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work,



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