The recently published (June 2021) new global standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace aims to provide clear guidance to employers on managing mental health at work. Whilst it is a voluntary standard to implement it will help organisations to ensure that they are complying with legislation. This new standard “is intended to be used together with ISO 45001, which contains requirements and guidance on planning, implementing, reviewing, evaluating, and improving an OH&S management system (and) highlights that the organization is responsible for the OH&S of workers and… (this) includes promoting and protecting their physical and psychological health”.

There are ten sections within the standard, the first three of which are shorter, give context and define the scope, references, terms and definitions found within the standard. The statement in section 3.2 stands out as it states that “wellbeing at work can also contribute to the quality of life outside of work”. This is important as it confirms the importance of good work as a health outcome that if not well managed can have a personal and societal cost.

Sections four and five focuses on pre-planning and offers a detailed checklist to consider in order to gain a thorough understanding of the organisation prior to section six, the planning stage. The stand-out in section 5 refers to it being essential that there is worker “consultation and participation” in order to develop, plan, implement, maintain, evaluate, and continually improve by leading to an “increase (in) a worker’s motivation and commitment to contribute to psychologically healthy and safe workplaces”.

Section six, planning, is where things start to get meaty regarding the identification of potential psychosocial hazards and has familiar overlaps with the HSE Management Standards for Stress (see tables1-3 in the standard). Section seven covers support and lists competency, awareness, communication, documentation, and confidentiality as resources to achieve the objectives of the standard.

Section eight guides on operational planning and control and covers risk assessment and control measures. It includes guidance on eliminating hazards, reducing OH&S risks and promoting well-being at work and usefully states signs/symptoms that a worker has been exposed to psychosocial risk. This section continues to be far-reaching as it also guides organisations to include procurement, contracting and outsourcing, and emergency preparedness and response and rehabilitation and return to work.

The ninth section, as would be expected following the planning stage, covers evaluating performance via both quantitative and qualitative means plus inclusion of senior management to indicate continued buy-in from the top. It clearly states within this section that “appropriate documented information” should be retained as evidence.

The final section refers to continuous improvement and corrective actions in the case of an incident or non-conformance. It is pleasing to note that the standard states that organisations should, in relation to incident or non-compliance “encourage and support reporting to reduce fear of reprisals”.

A full copy of the standard can found at ISO 45003:2021(en), Occupational health and safety management — Psychological health and safety at work — Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks and at a cost of £118.00 can be downloaded in PDF format.

A useful overview via e-learning can also be accessed for free at ISO 45003:2021 Psychological health and safety at work FREE resources training pdf

“Libby, you’re a fabulous trainer! I have a few people in my organisation that I have signposted to our EAP, so it might be an idea for me to do a stress risk assessment with them”.

“Libby was an excellent trainer; the course was brilliant and hugely informative”.

Store Managers, Smyths Toys, after completing stress management training during 2022

“I feel much more able to support someone who is off or has returned to work due to a MH problem. Libby was excellent and easy to engage with”.

“Completely enjoyed the course, learned so much and met with some of my MTC colleagues who are like minded. As a tutor myself for the last twelve years, I must compliment Libby on her presentation, listening and direction. All in all, an experience I will not forget”.

Delegate, the Manufacturing and Technology Centre, after completing MHFAider training

The idea of a PPE equivalent for mental health and safety was inspired between 2017 and 2019 whilst delivering mental health training within the construction and manufacturing sectors. PPE is about prevention, prevention of illness or injury and preventing litigation. Its purpose is to reduce risk and keep people safe and, in line with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, provision of PPE is a legal requirement. It’s primarily about minimising the risk of physical harm with a focus on being proactive; no point in putting that hard hat on once you’ve been hit on the head and are unconscious or providing gloves after someone has dermatitis or a burn or that high viz jacket once you’re lying on the ground and have been knocked over! To make the idea of control measures, as defined within any risk assessment for health and safety, more relatable, and to normalise attitudes to mental ill-health, Mindshift offers a variety of organisational support that is based on areas found within the list below.

What might the equivalents of PPE for mental health and safety look like?

  • The high-viz jacket is saying SEE ME. The response is WE SEE YOU and YOU ARE SAFE. To be mentally safe requires a stigma-free culture that enables staff to be comfortable if they need to say, “see me” about their mental fitness and a workplace culture that acknowledges, understands, and supports mental difference.
  • Matching the right type of hand protection to the job being done is acknowledging that exposure to some products or heat sources can cause harm to the skin. The mental health alternative is acknowledging and assessing the potential for work-related stress by performing organisation-wide or individual stress risk assessments and implementing control measures to reduce it.
  • The availability of hand wash or emergency rinsing agents is ensuring that if an accident occurs despite control measures such as gloves or eye protection being used that swift action to prevent long-lasting damage can be taken. The mental health alternative involves providing support if work-related stress or mental distress occurs. This could be via access to an employee assistance programme, funded talking therapy or availability of colleagues who have knowledge and confidence to talk about mental distress.
  • Occupational exposure limits and working time directives are about too much of something for too long being a risk to health and allowing workers to stop before harm is done. A working environment that supports the need to relax, reflect, and recharge is the MH alternative.
  • Wearing a hard-hat, is acknowledging that we are not invincible, that we may be vulnerable if hit on the head. Provision of the hard hat is saying “things can go wrong, so, just in case, look after yourself and wear this”. The mental health alternative is an employee who implements self-help strategies and takes responsibility for his mental resilience as far as possible.
  • Toolbox talks typically educate staff about PPE use and how to work safely. Regarding mental fitness this could include following national campaigns, holding regular health promotions on mental health and displaying relevant resources in the workplace or on the intranet.
  • Access to Physical First Aiders in the workplace is a legal requirement as per the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. The Act requires employers to “provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work”. In essence, trained staff aim to keep people safe and try to stop a problem getting worse until the professionals arrive, they don’t walk by and ignore the symptoms. Staff trained in mental health follow the same idea however their role is not to wait until a crisis occurs before stepping in. Many people have had no training in stress or mental health awareness, and many don’t know what to say or worry they could make a situation worse. Training related to stress and mental health increases knowledge, understanding and confidence and reduces stigma around this topic. Further this enables confidence to have a good quality conversation, to reduce the isolation and distress felt and, if necessary, to signpost to the professionals.

Parity of esteem

Parity of esteem is the principle by which mental health is given equal priority to physical health and was enshrined in law by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The current lack of parity is evidenced in various research that demonstrates a life expectancy that is 15 – 25 years lower in those living with severe mental illness. My aim is to make the concept of minimising work-related risk of stress and mental distress easy to understand and to make it more relatable, especially within those sectors where physical health and safety and the usefulness of control measures and risk assessment is second nature.

The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety and within its guidance documents aims to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health. This includes mental as well as physical health. Stress and mental health are one of the 3 health priorities that the HSE has been focussing on since 2016 as per their Health and Work Strategy. Many businesses continue to be reactive rather than proactive in their approach to managing work-related stress. With many employees feeling unable, to be honest with their employer about their mental health, this can lead to people becoming more unwell, being absent from work or attending work when not fit (presenteeism).

The PPE for Mental Health Series provided by Mindshift Consultancy offers a range of training and organisational support. Two brand new IOSH approved courses are now available for in-house delivery (virtual/face to face), entitled “Understanding and Supporting Stress & Mental Fitness in the Workplace” and “Performing an Individual Stress Risk Assessment: Why, When and How” under the licence of Mindshift Consultancy.

Understanding and supporting stress and mental fitness in the workplace.

How to complete an individual stress risk assessment (IOSH certificated)

Yet again another excellent report Libby! You don’t know how refreshing it is to have someone of your calibre helping us out!

Libby ensured all our appointments ran smoothly and has adapted to late changes in times and venues without complaint. All visits are conducted in a professional manner, reports are detailed, on time and shared in a way we can all understand.

H & S Manager, large logistics company

  • A 4-hour course for up to 16 delegatess
  • Delegates qualify as Mental Health Aware
  • Includes manual, workbook and certificate
  • An understanding of what mental health is and how to challenge stigma
  • A basic knowledge of some common mental health issues
  • An introduction to looking after your own mental health and maintaining wellbeing
  • Confidence to support someone in distress or who may be experiencing a mental health issue
  • 1-day intensive course for up to 16 delegates
  • Delegates qualify as a MHFA Champion
  • Includes manual, workbook, certificate
  • An understanding of common mental health issues
  • Knowledge and confidence to advocate for mental health awareness
  • Ability to spot signs of mental ill health
  • Confidence to support anyone experiencing mental distress
  • Skills to support positive wellbeing

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