When businesses think about occupational health and safety, they tend to focus on the safety aspect of employees while carrying out their roles within the work environment.
The prevention of accidents through risk assessments, employee training and implementing controls that minimise hazards in the workplace are some of the areas they tend to focus on. However, we are hearing more about mental health problems on the news and in social media. The illness no longer has the same stigma attached to it and sufferers are more inclined to discuss their problems.
Thanks to this awareness, employees are being encouraged to share mental health problems with their employers before their condition gets critical.
Colleagues are more inclined to help sufferers in the same way they would support a physical injury. Many companies now include mental health and awareness training as well as health and safety courses.
According to NHS digital:
- In England a sixth of the population between the ages 16 to 64 have a mental health problem.
- Between 1993 and 2014 there has been a steady increase in people with severe symptoms.
“Contains information from NHS Digital, licensed under the current version of the Open Government Licence”.
Cost to businesses
In a report published in an independent review of mental health and employers titled “Thriving at work”, poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74 billion and £99 billion.
Giving similar priority to mental health and wellbeing that is given to prevention of accidents, makes sound commercial sense.
The migration of OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001* provides an ideal opportunity to review all your health and safety procedures at the same time. The emphasis on a risk-based approach with leadership from top management and increased employee involvement will help organisations establish the changes needed to provide a safer working environment and healthier workforce.
Though the new ISO 45001 standard includes mental health within occupational health and wellbeing, it does not go into detail. It will be up to individual leaders within the organisation to implement systems that will increase awareness, train employees and maintain processes to provide the support needed by staff with mental health issues.
Causes of mental health problems can stem from a variety of sources including:
- Issues buried from an early age.
- Personal problems at home such as a bereavement.
- Stress or anxiety at work.
Some industries are particularly prone to stress; the Office for National Statistics highlighted that between 2011 and 2015 more than 1,400 construction workers took their own lives.
As awareness of mental illness increases and the problems posed by a more mobile and insecure workforce (no jobs for life) grow, it is likely that mental health issues in the workplace will continue to climb into the future. Businesses will have to get to grips with improving the health, as well as the safety, of their workforce.
*Footnote: OHSAS 18001 is currently being migrated to ISO 45001. A 3-year migration period is now in progress ending on 12th March 2021. After this date OHSAS 18001 will be withdrawn.