“How to eliminate workplace psychosocial hazards” according to the ILO – another blinding glimpse of the obvious

“How to eliminate workplace psychosocial hazards” according to the ILO – another blinding glimpse of the obvious

April 29, 2016


To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the International Labour Organisation has released a major report on the impact of workplace stress and how to tackle it.  The document is replete with statements I found astonishing, eg

In various countries national legislation provides for the protection
of mental health and wellbeing of specific categories of workers.
For instance, a number of countries have specific requirements
for young workers, promoting their mental or moral integrity and
development (e.g. Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina
Faso, Central African Republic, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti,
Jordan, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal,
Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Uruguay), as
well as for protecting pregnant workers from mental fatigue and
job strain (e.g. Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Italy,
Luxembourg, Norway, and Romania).
Do the authors seriously expect us to believe that some of these countries; Angola, Botswana, , Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Haiti, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkmenistan actually enact specific requirements for young workers, promoting their mental or moral integrity and development?

In Workplace Stress: A collective challenge, ILO researchers review the latest studies on the prevalence of workplace stress and its impact on workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

A 2014 Australian stress and wellbeing survey, they say, found nearly half of participants reported work demands as “barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle”, while an earlier study found seven in 10 Australians said stress was affecting their physical health.

“Global competitive processes have transformed work organisation, working relations and employment patterns, contributing to the increase of work-related stress and its associated disorders,” ILO senior occupational health specialist Valentina Forastieri says.

According to the report, studies show psychosocial risks are linked to “health-related behavioural risk, including heavy alcohol consumption, overweight, less frequent exercise, increased cigarette smoking, and sleep disorders”.

Within the workplace, mental health disorders associated with psychosocial risk causes “increased absenteeism and presenteeism, disturbed labour relations, reduced motivation of staff, decreased satisfaction and creativity, increased staff turnover, internal transfers and retraining, and generally a poorer public image”, it says.

Exposure to workplace stress is also associated with cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders, while long-term exposure to emotionally demanding work situations can lead to burnout and depression.

The report identifies 10 types of psychosocial hazards divided into two groups:

  1. Content of work:
    • Work environment and equipment – “problems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance or repair of both equipment and facilities”, and physical hazards;
    • Job content – poor task design, repetitious and meaningless work, and job uncertainty;
    • Workload – excessive workloads, time pressure and lack of control; and
    • Work schedule – fixed schedules, long or unsocial hours, and shift work or unpredictable hours that upset biological circadian rhythms and affect workers’ sleep quality.
  2. Context of work:
    • Organisational culture and function – “poor communication, low levels of support for problem-solving and personal development, lack of definition of organisational objectives”;
    • Role in organisation – ambiguity or conflict in a worker’s role;
    • Career development – career stagnation and uncertainty, under-promotion and job insecurity during mergers and acquisitions, retrenchment and budget cutbacks;
    • Decision latitude – low participation in decision-making;
    • Interpersonal work relationships – poor social relationships that increase “adverse effects of exposure to other psychosocial hazards”; and
    • Home-work interface.

The ILO report recommends seven measures to prevent work-related stress:

  1. Control – ensure workplaces are adequately staffed and let workers have a say on how their work is carried out;
  2. Workload – ensure work hours are reasonable, assign reasonable deadlines and regularly assess time requirements for tasks;
  3. Social support – provide a workplace where “supervisory staff take responsibility for other workers and there is an appropriate level of contact” to build supportive relationships between the two groups. Maintain a workplace free of “physical and psychological violence” and “reinforce motivation by emphasising the positive and useful aspects of the work”;
  4. Matching the job and the worker – ensure proper utilisation of a worker’s skills by matching their jobs to their physical and psychological abilities, and assign tasks “according to experience and competence”;
  5. Training and education – provide information and training on psychosocial risks and stress management;
  6. Transparency and fairness – be clear in assigning tasks and roles to avoid conflict and ambiguity and provide fair pay. Ensure procedures for dealing with complaints are transparent and fair; and
  7. Physical working environment – provide a healthy workspace for employees, taking into account appropriate lighting, air quality, noise levels and ergonomics. Remove all “hazardous agents”.

“Awareness on these issues is growing,” Forastieri says.

“In most countries policymakers and social partners have become involved in concrete interventions to tackle psychosocial hazards, which are the causes of work-related stress,” she says.

“A comprehensive OSH management system would ensure improved preventive practices and incorporation of health promotion measures.

“This should include psychosocial risks in risk assessment and management measures with a view to effectively managing their impact in the same way as with other OSH risks in the workplace.”



Leave a Comment