Martin Graham explores how ISO 45001 goes beyond physical safety in its scope but also recognises that a healthy workplace extends to mental health considerations.

‘Health and safety’ for a lot of people, can conjure up visions of copious amounts of PPE, paperwork, training and checklists. Whilst there are elements of truth to this, the intentions have always been good, and none more so than the relatively recent increase in consideration towards mental health and wellbeing within a management system. This step change has been noticeable not only on the client side of things but also in the types of conversations that are being had by certification body auditors.

Having audited health and safety systems for many years, it has been interesting to note the gradual yet ever-increasing discussions being had around, what I have come to call, the ‘softer’ elements of health and safety. In years gone by, the focus would be on the ‘usual suspects’ of slips, trips, falls and so on, which of course remain very valid areas of consideration, but it is satisfying to see that there is a much greater openness around the subject of mental health and wellbeing.

Whilst not explicitly stated in the requirements of 45001, the introduction states ‘An organisation is responsible for the occupational health and safety
of workers and others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting their physical and mental health’. Couple this with the policy requirement to ‘A commitment to provide safe and healthy working conditions for the prevention of work-related injury and ill health’ (injury and ill health = adverse effect on the physical, mental or cognitive condition of a person), and you can see what a relevant consideration this becomes when establishing, implementing and auditing an OH&S management system.

Contributing to CSR

The ‘core’ elements of health and safety around physical protection will always remain and rightly so, but systems, policies, arrangements and objectives are recognising the value of people’s mental health and wellbeing as vital to their welfare but also to an organisation’s resilience, productivity, worker loyalty and client perception – as well as contributing towards corporate and social responsibilities.

The last few years have been extraordinary for us all and changes in working patterns, habits and expectations have been unprecedented. Add to that financial pressures as well as many other external influences, and it is easy to see why mental health and wellbeing is relevant to us all – and has potentially great benefits when being considered within a management system.

Workers are of course an interested party and therefore needs and expectations need to be considered, but how these translate into plans and actions is what is important. Very often a management system is seen as a means of controlling and influencing workers, but now there is greater thought as to how workers affect a management system and as a result what that comes to look like to us as auditors.

Cultivating a supportive work culture

Understanding how stresses and pressure affect a person’s ability to judge or perceive hazards is an important aspect of a risk assessment process and really should be considered as a part of the risk assessment criteria and methodology. Bringing troubles to work with you can be detrimental to yours and others safety. Anxiety and depression are the most common factors in mental health issues, and it is important to understand if work is aggravating any pre-existing conditions.

Appointing mental health first aiders is a popular and effective action. Many clients I visit have done so and they have led to some relatively simple decisions around improving working practices and environments – from simple work breaks, one to ones, group WhatsApp chats, peer support, mentoring and establishing employee assistance programmes, extra-curricular activities and get togethers within the community, fitness challenges, through to improving the work environment itself – decor and facilities can have a huge impact. Sometimes the things we don’t notice or become numb to such as disorder, clutter and ineffective equipment or processes can cause a drain on our wellbeing.

Things don’t need to be complicated. Often it is the simplest things that can help in improving how you feel. A walk, a sit by the lake or an actual lunch break away from the desk and screen I have seen work wonders within organisations (and in myself).

Communication is key

Ensuring information is available is an important part of the process but
even more so is to encourage the participation and consultation process. By involving people in the decision-making process, they can feel a greater sense of ownership, with productivity and morale less likely to be affected.

A number of interesting conversations I’ve had recently revolve around leadership. Not so much getting them involved in supporting mental health and wellbeing, but rather ‘Top Management’s’ own stresses and worries in the workplace. Increased costs and market volatility to name a couple are placing incredible pressures on business owners and so it is important that TopManagement do not forget themselves in the process.

Encouraging positive outcomes

Of course, not everyone is the same and there is no one single cause or solution. There has to be a balance but factoring in mental health and wellbeing within your management system planning process will almost certainly add value to the organisation. It affects how people work, interact with others, perform in their role and perceive and judge the hazards and risks that surround them.

It is important as auditors that we understand and consider the subject of mental health and wellbeing during our audit planning and execution and are prepared to have conversations around how this is being applied. It is not necessarily an easy subject and there needs to be mindful consideration as to how conversations are held, but the reality is that they need to happen.