New Draft ISO Guidance on Psychological Risk Ignites TUC Concerns

New Draft ISO Guidance on Psychological Risk Ignites TUC Concerns

  • Date: Wednesday 16th January 2019
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The international committee behind ISO 45001 has drawn up a new draft guidance standard on “psychological risk in the workplace”, a document that it says could be converted to a new management standard in three years. 

But the early draft has prompted concern from the TUC, where senior policy officer Hugh Robertson criticised references to employees’ “competence” in managing their own psychological risks, and argued that ISO standards are not appropriate to dealing with stress and psychosocial risk at work. 

The new draft has been produced by International Standards Organisation Technical Committee 283 (ISO TC 283), the same international committee responsible for delivering ISO 45001 last year, which is now responsible for future revisions to the standard. 

Under its new chair Martin Cottam, group technical assurance and quality director at Lloyd's Register, ISO TC 283 met in September in Coventry. 

It has set itself the task of producing a supporting standard to ISO 45001 on psychological risk, and an implementation handbook aimed SMEs. 

A plan to concentrate on these two items was approved by a ballot of national standards bodies, and dedicated work groups have been established for each project. 

In a Q&A article posted on the Lloyds’ Register website on 14 November 2018, Cottam wrote that delegates at the meeting represented the national standards bodies of 36 participating countries, together with liaison bodies including trade union and employer organisations, professional institutions and certifiers.

In the article, Cottam said: “The guidance standard on psychological risk in the workplace will follow the more typical three-year development schedule. 

“As it will be a formal standard, it will involve several periods of consultation, both with national mirror committees and with the public.”

But the TUC’s Robertson was critical of the initiative, on the grounds that it sees dealing with psychosocial risk as a “top-down” process that does not need input from employees or their representatives.  

In a blog post on the TUC's website, he wrote: “It seems to think that the whole process of dealing with the risks is something that management can do on their own. There is a section on 'leadership and worker participation' that never even mentions worker participation – or consultation, worker representatives, or any kind of involvement in the process.”

Quoting a section which says that workers should “have the necessary competence to reduce the potential for injury and illness due to exposure to psychosocial risks”, Robertson fears that this could “open the door to initiatives such as resilience training, rather than putting the responsibility on management to have the competency to remove and manage risk”.

In the article, he also repeats arguments against the “privatisation” of health and safety management that were previously levelled at ISO 45001. 

“Employers and unions have consistently made it clear that they do not want ISO developing standards in areas that are best agreed between employers and unions, or through regulation. If there were to be guidance or even a standard on stress, the place to agree that would be at the International Labour Organisation,” he wrote. 

According to Duncan Spencer, head of practice at IOSH, the new initiative comes as governments worldwide are grappling with the pressing need to improve the health of the working population and curb social security spending. 

“If we don’t do anything now, social security systems will be bankrupt in a generation. International bodies [including ISO, the International Labour Organisation and EU-OSHA] are looking for initiatives that keep people healthy and in work for longer, and are putting pressure on national governments to do something,” he noted.  

Dave Parr, policy and technical services director at the British Safety Council, was cautiously optimistic about the new guidance standard, saying that the charity would “advocate more focus on health and wellbeing (including mental health) in any future review of the new standard and we are encouraged that ISO are considering such issues already”.

Source: IOSH Magazine

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