The International Standardization Organization recently published a new standard on psychological health and safety in the workplace. ISO 45003 provides guidelines for managing psychosocial risk and allow organizations to audit their practices against them.

Psychosocial risks cover all the aspects of the work environment that have the potential to cause psychological harm, such as work-related stress, depression or burnout. Typical examples include having to work on tight deadlines, the lack of involvement in making decisions, ineffective communication or conflicting demands. For organizations, psychosocial risks incur increased costs due to absence from work, reduced ability to work effectively, increased staff turnover, as well as damage to the organization’s reputation.

This new international standard was developed by a committee of experts from 40 countries and is intended to be practical and easy to understand. Applicable to organizations of all sizes and in all sectors, the implementation of ISO 45003 does not require a dedicated occupational health and safety or human resources department. Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at BSI, described this new standard as ‘a consensus of good practice for organizations everywhere, providing off-the-shelf advice for companies so that they can enhance the wellbeing of their employees whilst striving to meet business needs, a win-win outcome’.

But the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have raised concerns about the ‘primacy of international standardsin the EU. According to Isabelle Schömann, ETUC confederal Secretary in charge of standardization, there is no ‘guarantee that ISO standards comply with EU values and rights, nor does it provide for any role for trade unions and societal stakeholders to take part in standardization, as is the case at the European level. As long as these issues are not thoroughly addressed in ISO, the EU should reconsider applying such a concept of primacy of international standards’.

More generally, the ETUC recalls that standardization is not a silver bullet, and some issues are better addressed in legislation or collective agreements. Since the first lockdown, the ETUC is calling for the adoption of a directive dedicated to psychosocial risks. Such a directive would help to combat the spike in stress that affects all workplaces and represent major progress for those working from home, as they are primarily exposed to risks of a psychosocial nature.

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