Occupational Health and Safety Hazards – May Include Psychosocial?

I’ve had the privilege of helping organizations to understand, prepare for and audit against the first truly international standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMSs), referred to as ISO 45001. The Standard, which was long awaited, was published in March of this year.

One of the fundamental requirements for those organizations wanting to comply with or certify to the standard, is to recognize and understand a variety of types of hazards, in order to (in a prioritized way) eliminate hazards and reduce risk. Traditionally, many have thought of occupational health and safety risks as stemming from hazards that could be categorized as, for example, physical, chemical, mechanical and related.

However, the new international standard (ISO 45001) requires that hazard identification processes take into account social factors and provides a few examples of things that could fall into that category (workload and shift duration, victimization, harassment and bullying). Also, the informative Annex to the standard indicates that hazards can be “psychosocial.” In today’s work environments, the requirement to take these sorts of factors into account would sure seem reasonable.

Some companies currently think of social/psychosocial hazards in a somewhat narrow way (perhaps limited to bullying). However, others view the term broadly and seem to have some very creative interpretations as well as corresponding plans for action. It would appear as though there is some room for interpretation here, and it is my understanding that “psychosocial” hazards and ways to address them, is a topic for potential guidance documents that may be created and (down the road) published by the International Standards Organization.

I am curious to know – does your organization have an ongoing and proactive process for the identification of occupational hazards that takes into account social/psychosocial factors? If so, how narrowly or broadly does your company approach the issue? Which internal groups might be involved in the process? Do you have any insights or approaches that you’ve taken that work well? Would you have any advice to share in the area? If you do – please share if you can. I think alot of people could benefit from good ideas in this area.

Thank you!


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