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Introducing ISO 45003:2021 - Psychosocial Health & Safety at Work

The Background

ISO 45003 is an International Health & Safety Standard designed to protect Mental Health and Well-being at work in a comparable fashion to the way Physical Health & Safety is protected. It was published in 2021.

Mental Health at work was already protected by law. The Health & Safety At Work Act 1974 simply says employers must “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees”. Whilst it doesn’t specifically mention Mental Health, neither does it specify musculoskeletal health, respiratory health or any other area in which protections have already been successfully implemented over the years.

Since 1999 the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations have also stated that employers assess risks to Health, with no specific areas detailed or excluded, but risk assessments to employee health tended to focus completely on physical health risks until 2004, when the HSE published their Management Standards for work-related stress, and it is still rare for organisations to proactively assess Stress Risks in their organisation in the way that they do physical risk.

The Standard

ISO 45003 is a “child standard” of ISO 45001, the standard for Health & Safety Management Systems which was published in 2018, and as such can be easily adopted by any organisation conforming to ISO 45001, or with an existing H&S Management System in place. The process of risk assessment, registration and control is therefore similar to other workplace risks. So whilst ISO 45003 does not provide any additional protections to employees in law, it does outline how organisations can apply their existing H&S rigour to Mental Health and Wellbeing.

ISO 45003 is a “guidance standard”, which simply means it is not available for accreditation by ISO. Some third-party certification bodies such as the BSI do offer their own auditing and certification.

The Standard itself provides two definitions which can be useful for the discussion of wellbeing and mental health at work:

Psychosocial risk - combination of the likelihood of occurrence of exposure to work-related hazard(s) of a psychosocial nature and the severity of injury and ill-health that can be caused by these hazards.

Well-being at Work - fulfilment of the physical, mental, social and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work.

(The Standard also notes that Well-being at Work also contributes to the quality of life outside of work.)

The Standard groups possible areas of psychosocial risk under three headings — How Work Is Organised; Social Factors at Work; and Work Environment, Equipment and Hazardous Tasks — and provides the following suggestions of areas that might contain risk:

How Work Is Organised: Roles & Expectations, Job Control or Autonomy, Job Demands, Change, Isolation, Workload and work rhythm, Working Hours, Job security

Social Factors at Work: Interpersonal relationships, Leadership, Organisational/workgroup culture, Recognition and reward, Career development, Support, Supervision, Civility and respect, Work/life balance, Violence at work, Harassment, Bullying and victimisation

Work Environment, Equipment and Hazardous Tasks: whilst these areas would usually form part of a Health & Safety risk assessment, ISO 45003 also includes consideration of the Psychological impact of these factors (for example, the stress inherent in dealing with highly toxic chemicals on a day-to-day basis).

Some Considerations

Whilst the practical tools to implement ISO 45003 will be familiar to any Risk Management professional, there are some unique aspects to ISO 45003 which may provide challenges

  • Mental Health is still a sensitive and unfortunately stigmatised subject in many workplaces

  • Not all individuals will respond to Psychosocial risks in the same way, so a different approach will be needed for assessment and implementation of controls which may be less clear-cut than for physical H&S

  • In most organisations, Mental Health and Wellbeing will already have an owner (usually HR), so there will be additional stakeholder management required to drive change

If you would like to talk through how else we can support your organisation and your teams please do get in touch with our Director of Wellbeing, Gemma Carter-Morris on

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