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Preventing and managing psychosocial risks

IOSH policy position on embedding psychosocial risk management strategies into businesses

Embedding psychosocial risk management strategies into business-as-usual practices still represents a major challenge for organisations. However, there is increasing recognition among organisations that a proactive approach to the management of psychosocial hazards through appropriate policies and programmes can act as a driver to significant long-term benefits.

For businesses to succeed in becoming socially sustainable organisations, they need to demonstrate a solid commitment to the prevention and mitigation of psychosocial hazards. This must be done through robust psychosocial risk management in the workplace and by positioning the safety, health (being both physical and mental health) and the promotion of wellbeing of people at work at the centre of the business agenda. 

The facts 

  • Psychosocial hazards are aspects of the design and management of work and its social and organisational contexts which have the potential for causing psychological or physical harm. 

  • The World Health Organization estimates, in its Mental health at work fact sheet, that poor mental health costs the global economy US$1 trillion annually in lost productivity. 

  • According to a recent report from Deloitte, the cost of poor mental health to UK employers reached up to £45bn. This figure is made up of absence costs of around £7bn, presenteeism costs ranging from about £27bn to £29bn and turnover costs of around £9bn. Deloitte’s updated work also makes a positive case for investment in mental health by employers, finding an average return of £5 for every £1 spent.  

  • Revised figures indicate that stress, burnout, depression and other psychosocial risks at work are costly for employers and workers, and for society in general, and are estimated to be exceeding four per cent of GDP (OECD, 2018).

  • IOSH, together with other international advocates, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the World Economic Forum (WEF), are active players in the prevention and management of psychosocial hazards and the promotion of mental health at work through research and advocacy. 

Our position

With an increasing prevalence of work-related psychosocial risks and higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression, it’s time for businesses to step up and give this the focus it deserves.  

Psychosocial risks can arise from poor work design, organisation, and management, as well as poor social context of work. These risks can also cause or exacerbate existing physical health conditions within the workforce.  

It is important that work-related psychosocial hazards are identified, and risks are prevented and mitigated in a manner consistent with other occupational safety and health risks. This should be part of a holistic approach which considers and manages both mental health and physical health risks.  

Leadership commitment is crucial for the prevention and management of work-related psychosocial risks. Psychosocial risk management also needs embedding within the occupational health and safety management system, one which strives for continual improvement. There must be strategy alignment and commitment from all levels and functions of the organisation, leading with prevention measures first, raising awareness and building competency, providing support and interventions, and developing the right culture.  

By doing this, businesses can play a significant role in preventing psychosocial problems among workers, something which can have a huge benefit on both individuals and the business, with an estimated return of £5 for every £1 spent. 

Occupational safety and health professionals can play a fundamental role in this. They are pivotal in creating better and more aligned workplace policies that incorporate different aspects of mental health and wellbeing into occupational health and safety management systems. Such systems are worker-centred and put good risk management culture, work design, work environment and conditions at the forefront.