Psychosocial risks in Europe slowly being addressed through legislation
Joint report on psychosocial risks
The European Commission’s communication on the new strategic framework on health and safety at work 2014–2020 says more attention needs to be paid to work organisation and its effect on mental health. Among the communication’s recommendations is further action on the prevention of mental health problems among employees.
Eurofound and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) published a report in October 2014 which will contribute to the EU strategic framework. It discusses the prevalence of psychosocial risks in Europe and their impact on well-being, updating information on recent trends. It gives examples of policies at national level and interventions at company level to prevent health problems caused by the psychosocial work environment.
Recent legislative developments
The framework directive of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work obliges employers in the European Union to assess all occupational safety and health (OSH) risks in the workplace that could harm workers’ safety and health. On that basis, psychosocial risks should be included in any proper risk management. However, many believe obligations need to be made more explicit. There have been discussions about how best to formulate and implement measures to tackle psychosocial risks in some European countries. There has also been a debate over the possible inclusion of psychosocial risk prevention in national legislation.
In Germany, a proposal by the Federal Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, was widely debated by politicians and social partners. Nahles announced that an Anti-Stress Act is to be presented to parliament next year. She explained that the problem of workers being permanently contactable was creating pressure on them to be available at all times. She felt this might be leading to a rise in psychological illnesses, though more research was needed.
The Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs has asked the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) to look into possibility of establishing ‘maximum exposure criteria’ for avoiding stress.
German unions, including the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) and the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) declared their support for an Anti-Stress Act. Meanwhile, the German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (BDA) says employers are already concerned about psychological strains and want their staff to be healthy. They argue that national legislation on stress would not be able take into account the different situations of employees, companies and sectors.
Other countries have already included prevention of psychosocial risks in legislation. In Belgium, a new law on prevention of psychosocial risks came into force on 1 September 2014. Legislation already covers risks such as the prevention of violence, harassment and unwanted sexual behaviour, but has now been expanded to embrace psychosocial risks. Systems have also been improved, with duties and responsibilities of the different actors – the employer, prevention advisor, health and safety committee and medical officer – clarified. Mechanisms to stimulate the prevention of psychosocial risks at collective level have been explained.
New Member State Croatia brought in a new Law on Occupational Safety (OG 71/14) on 19 June 2014 and, in the third quarter, roadmaps for its implementation have been prepared. The new legislation has a similar structure to the previous Law on Safety at Work adopted in 1996 which had been amended seven times. For the first time, the new law introduces measures to protect workers from psychosocial risks such as too much stress at work. The aim is prevention of risk and education of all stakeholders.
Increased sick leave due to stress
Reports from Sweden, Germany and Luxembourg confirm that sick leave for psychological reasons is increasing and that this type of illness leads to long-term absence.
In Sweden, sick leave with an ‘organisational and social cause’ has increased by 50% over the past four years according to the Work Environment Authority (WEA) 2013 report on work-related injuries (in Swedish). The WEA has sent out proposals for new provisions in existing legislation to address ‘terms of workload, working hours, conflicts and degrading treatment’.
Several studies in Norway reflect links between the psychosocial environment in the workplace and health. In a National Institute of Occupational Health study, psychosocial factors were found to influence both physical and mental health problems, which in turn could lead to increased sick leave. The study found that the self-reported role conflict at work, high emotional demands and low supportive leadership had the greatest impact on long-term sick leave.
About this article
This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents. Further resources on health and well-being can be obtained from:
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