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Demystifying mental health: conducting a psychological risk assessment
Date of Issue: Wednesday, 23 February, 2022
by Dr Pamela Gellatly, IIRSM member and CEO of Healthcare RM
It is suggested that work-related stress is a major cause of occupational ill health. To what extent, however, does it really lead to poor productivity, human error, increased sickness absence, increase in accidents and a high turnover of staff?
In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that 15.4 million working days are lost each year as a result of stress, anxiety and depression, at a cost of £52 billion to industry, individuals and the Government. Yet these statistics relate to all workplace mental ill health, which may or may not be caused or made worse by work.
So how do you truly understand the impact of work-related stress in your organisation? Well, if you are not assessing you are guessing!
Legislation in the UK and many other countries requires organisations to risk assess psychological hazards in the workplace in a similar manner to a physical risk assessment, but do you know how to assess not only the psychological hazards but who can be harmed and how?
The HSE Management Standards were developed to help indicate the sources of occupational stressors, but how these affect individuals varies considerably. A study of 5,825 assessments over a two-year period identified the following:
The Psychological Risk Assessment variables
So, what are the steps you need to take when carrying out a psychological risk assessment? Here are the five I recommend you take:
Step 1: Identifying the occupational hazards
Typical risks include:
Step 2: Identify/decide who can be harmed and how
This is the most difficult aspect as many psychological stressors are not evident in the same way that physical risks are. Data are key to the risk assessment process and therefore you should consider both quantitative and qualitative data to include:
Examples of data to support risk assessment process
- Quantitative examples (from study of 24,000 mostly male employees in one year)
- Qualitative Data
Combine this with known occupational factors including: demands; role; relationships; control; change and support provided.
Personal Risk Factors
Then combine this data with other personal factors that may be known/present to include:
Step 3: introduce controls to reduce risks
With psychological risks this is much more difficult, but should include consideration of:
Step 4: Document Findings
Data are key to this process and essential if psychological risks are to be reduced. Often work is not the sole causation as mental ill health often arises when pressure is multifactorial.
An individual may perceive that work is the causation but whether it is or not needs to be accurately assessed by a professional to ensure that the individual receives the most appropriate support.
Step 5: Review
Ideally this should be every six months dependent on how often your business risks fluctuate and change.
Access to good quality data, both quantitative and qualitative, will really help you understand what is happening in your organisation and what is really associated with work and what may be due to a wide range of other factors.
This is not shirking your obligations but demystifying mental health by understanding the real-world data, which will enable you to reduce the risk of psychological harm in your organisation. Failing to do this will mean that the business will keep offering support mechanisms that are less likely to address the real issues that your people need.