17 November 2015

Psychosocial risks in the workplace

  • The Occupational Health Project Team, which works within the framework of the ARPEL Environment, Health and Safety Committee, presents an information document on the importance of addressing psychosocial risks in the workplace. The Health Team will soon be launching a new technical report entitled "Guidelines to address psychosocial risk factors in the workplace." The work on health surveillance regarding psychosocial risk factors presented in 2014 is available on ARPEL website (https://arpel.org/library/publication/397/).

     

    Work is a key element in the life of human beings, as it provides financial resources; it is a factor of self-realization, and personal and social development, where the interaction with other workers and the satisfaction of the need to feel integrated are important.

    In the last few decades, major changes have occurred in the content and context of work, which influence and are influenced by the following factors: macroeconomic situation, precariousness of work, job uncertainty, changes in career development, aging of the workforce, changes to the retirement system, interpersonal relationships and interrelations of different generations in the same workplace, family relations and work-family interface, social conflicts and urban violence.

    Therefore, psychosocial risks and work-related stress are relevant and current topics, as they are a great challenge to occupational health and safety.

    The EU-OSHA states that "deficiencies in the design, organization, and management of work, as well as the social context of annoying work, may have negative effects on the psychological, physical and social level, such as work-related stress, fatigue or depression". There is also evidence of association with diseases, such as hypertension, myocardial infarction, diseases of the digestive system and skin conditions.

    The number of workers exposed to psychosocial risks in the workplace has increased in recent decades, as well as those affected by work-related stress, which can affect physical and mental health and may appear as stress, depression or anxiety. Initiatives have failed because of the estrangement between policy and practice.

    These psychosocial risks can be associated with several factors, either isolated or in combination, such as excessive workload, lack of participation in the decision-making that affects their work, lack of control over how the work is carried out, job uncertainty, conflicting demands, lack of clarity in the definition of functions, lack or poor management of organizational changes, lack of communication, lack of support from managers and colleagues, and, in extreme cases, psychological or sexual harassment, and violence by a third party.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) considers that dealing with the problems of safety, health and well-being in the psychosocial work environment, which includes the organization of work and the culture of the organization, is one of the pillars for the construction of healthy work environments. The WHO states that organizational culture, management style, management and control style, attitudes, values, beliefs and everyday practices in companies are factors that can affect the physical and mental well-being of workers.

    Christophe Dejours, an important expert in this issue, says that "work does not only generate psychological suffering and pathology. In certain forms of work organization, work may become a major mediator of the genesis of pleasure in the workplace and the construction of the process of mental health. In other words, work is never neutral in relation to mental health. It can generate the worst (such as suicide or classic episodes of crisis) or the best: personal fulfillment through work, sublimation, contribution to the works of culture and civilization."

    Data from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks - ESENER suggest that psychosocial risks in general tend to be managed through a consistent approach, based on systems, such as OSH management. However, there are preventive measures that are rarely used in some countries, and contextual factors, such as the style of regulation, the organizational culture and the organization capabilities, play an important role and offer a potential path to enhance the management of occupational risks in working environments.

    According to WHO estimates, by 2020 depression will go from the fourth place to the second place as a cause of labor absenteeism. Research done by EU-OSHA identified that "half of European workers considered stress a common situation in the workplace, which accounts for approximately 50% working days lost", that is to say, stress is the second leading cause of work-related health problems in Europe.

    An excessive workload in itself does not constitute a psychosocial risk and can even be stimulating and challenging. The problem occurs when the job requirements exceed the capacity of the worker to provide the appropriate response. In such cases, the impact on the body can vary greatly from one person to another, affecting work performance, with impact on rates of accidents, absenteeism and presenteeism management.

    Work-related psychosocial risks can be prevented and managed successfully, regardless of their size or the type of company. They can be faced with the same logical and systematic approach as other occupational health and safety risks.

    The European Pact for Mental Health and Welfare recognizes the changes in the demands in the working environments and provides an incentive for employers to implement additional voluntary measures to promote the mental well-being with the participation of the workers, because they have knowledge of the environments, processes and work routines.

    A conducive work environment promotes the good performance and the development of individuals, as well as the physical and mental well-being of workers.

    However, the mental health issues are avoided at the workplace and are subject to misunderstanding and stigma, by both managers and health professionals. If they were faced as a problem of organization and not as an individual failure, as it often happens, these psychosocial risks could be controlled as other hazards to health and safety at work.

    As there is no single method or instrument to assess the multiple aspects of the identification of psychosocial risks and their consequences in affected workers, - nor is it sufficient to reject the existing methods - there is a need to select the tools and methods that are most effective for the situation and the technical expertise of the experts of each company, also taking into account the legal requirements of each country. It is therefore necessary to choose a method or methods that enable a more accurate diagnosis of the real conditions of work in the company that are the most appropriate according to the characteristics of the job and the people in that office.

    It is also important to have the participation of the workers, to share their experiences, expectations and their occupational and social realities.

    Therefore, the conceptual basis of the approach of psychosocial risks must cover several stages, such as identification of hazards, risk assessment, transformation of the information on risks into contribution for specific actions, design, introduction and management of interventions to reduce risks, proposal of strategies of the main factors of protection, monitoring and evaluation of interventions to provide feedback to existing interventions, as well as correction/proposal of future action plans, establishment of communication mechanisms and the Ombudsman, and  review of the information addressed to workers and their training.

     

    References:

    Dejours, C. Psicopatología del trabajo – Psicodinámica del Trabajo. Laborreal VOLUME VII · No. 1 · 2011 · PP. 13-16

    European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Mangement of psychosocial risks at work: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER). European Risk Observatory (Report). 60p. 2012

    Ministerio de la Protección Social de Colombia. Metodología del Ministerio de la Protección Social de Colombia para la Gestión de los Factores de Riesgo Psicosociales en el Trabajo.

    Organização Mundial de Saúde. Ambientes de trabalho saudáveis: Um modelo de ação – Para empregadores, trabalhadores, formuladores de políticas e profissionais. 26p. 2010.

    Victor H. et al. Factores de riesgo psicosocial laboral: métodos e instrumentos de evaluación. Revista Facultad Nacional de Salud Pública, vol. 29, N 4. December 2011, p380-391. 

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