Are you aware of the psychosocial hazards, or stressors, that are present in your workplace? If poorly managed, psychosocial hazards can lead to workplace conflict, distress, poor physical health or occupational illness among employees, and even long-term absence from work. Employers have a responsibility to manage the known psychosocial hazards in their workplace.
What are psychosocial hazards?
According to IOSH, psychosocial hazards are “those aspects of the design and management of work, and its social and organisational contexts that have the potential for causing psychological or physical harm”. This may also be considered as “the hidden workplace” (Source) or the aspects of work that can affect workers’ emotions, behaviours and biochemical and neuro-hormonal reactions. All workers will be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards – some will always be present while others only occur on occasion. Similarly, some workers will come into contact with more psychosocial hazards than others – such as those who work alone, remotely, or do shift work.
The most common psychosocial hazards found within a workplace include:
- Conflicting demands or lack of clarity within a role;
- Lack of support or communication;
- Lone working or remote working;
- Job insecurity;
- High dependency clients;
- Lack of control over the way work is done, or the work rate;
- Shift working.
Work related stress caused by psychosocial risks, can result in a stress response that is a physical, mental or emotional reaction in the worker, potentially leading to ill health. It can occur after a critical incident or result from the build up of numerous incidents (workpositive.ie). However, it often occurs when a worker feels that the demands of their work exceed their ability, or indeed resources, to cope with the requirements (IOSH).
What should I do as an employer?
As an employer, you will need to identify psychosocial hazards in your workplace in order to put in place controls to protect and support your employees. Following on from this, you will need to put controls in place for all of the identified hazards and keep a record of these procedures and policies. Communicating these changes with your employees will be of the utmost importance, along with ensuring that your management or supervisory team are trained and enabled to deal with psychosocial hazards. You should also consider protective support such as Occupational Health or an Employee Assistance Programme as a mitigating measure. As with many other workplace formalities, all issues or complaints brought to your attention or that of the management team should be dealt with and recorded in line with GDPR data requirements.
What is a risk assessment for psychosocial hazards?
As mentioned above, your first step in managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace should be to carry out a risk assessment that will identify potential causes of harm. This will allow you to put in place control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm and will require the methodical identification of stressors.
It’s important to note that stressors are usually embedded in a system of work, so identifying them properly will take time and competence. While not all areas of the work can be captured in every risk assessment, the key areas to be considered are:
- The demands of the job: the type and amount of work given to a person;
- The controls that are in place such as policies, procedures, training and employee assistance / support;
- The relationships within the workplace and an assessment of the work culture;
- The clarity or communication around each employees’ role, including their understanding of that role and its responsibilities and boundaries;
- Any change taking place in the workplace, or that has or is due to take place.
What other actions should be taken?
While the majority of actions to be taken will depend on your risk assessment, there are a number of common considerations that you should be aware of.
A policy on workplace stress can be an instrument to educate and inform employees about stress-inducing scenarios in the workplace. This could lead to the consideration of a stress management programme which may assist employees in building resilience and ensuring that they are empowered to deal with stressful situations that may arise as part of their duties.
A policy on workplace bullying should also be in place. The HSA has put together a Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work at this link.
At Ayrton, our consultancy team has considerable experience in the assessment and management of psychosocial hazards in the workplace. If you require a risk assessment or support in devising a workplace stress policy, you can speak to a member of our team today. Contact us here to find out more.