In 1986, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) listed psychological disorders among the ten leading work-related diseases and injuries among U.S. workers. Psychosocial hazards, however, have received scant attention among safety and health pros over the past decades. This is mainly because most pros focus on controlling physical, chemical and biological hazards in workplaces.
Let’s look at the landscape in 2010: 1) Polls show the majority of Americans are worried about job stress; 2) A shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge and service economy is ongoing, with the potential for greater psychosocial hazards; and 3) The issue of psychosocial hazards at work is gaining global recognition. Put these trends together and psychosocial hazards should now rank equally in importance to managing workplace physical, chemical and biological hazards.
There is no simple definition for psychosocial hazards - one reason health and safety professionals have largely worked around the issue. According to NIOSH, psychological hazards include an unsatisfactory work environment such as “work overload, lack of control over one’s work, non-supportive supervisors or co-workers, limited job opportunities, role ambiguity or conflict, rotating shiftwork, and machine-paced work.” Psychosocial hazards, however, may be anything that conflicts with an employee’s social and mental well-being.