EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life
Psychosocial risks are aspects of the design and management of work, and its social and organisational contexts, that have the potential to cause psychological or physical harm. Work-related stress is one of the health risks most frequently identified by workers in Europe. The factors that can cause stress for workers and influence their health and well-being can be related to the following: job content; work intensity and job autonomy; working time arrangements and work–life balance; social environment, including interpersonal relationships at work and social support; job insecurity; and career development.
Background and status
Currently, there is no legislation dedicated to addressing psychosocial risks at EU Level. However, there is no doubt that EU workers’ health and safety legislation covers workers’ mental health. Indeed, Article 5 of Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 (known as the Framework Directive on health and safety) states:
The employer shall have a duty to ensure the safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the work.
In addition, Article 6 of the directive provides a general principle of prevention: the employer must assess the risks at the workplace and take appropriate collective and individual measures to eliminate or reduce the risks.
- Council of the European Union: Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work
- Eurofound: Burnout in the workplace: A review of data and policy responses in the EU
European social dialogue initiatives
In addition to this legal framework, the EU social partners have concluded two EU collective agreements to address some specific psychosocial risks, based on the general principles of the Framework Directive: one on work-related stress in 2004 and the other on workplace bullying and violence at work in 2007.
- European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe (UNICE)/European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and CEEP: Framework agreement on work-related stress
- ETUC, BusinessEurope, CEEP and UEAPME: European social partners: Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work
At sectoral level, EU social partners have also addressed the issue of psychosocial risks in, for instance, central administration and the education, railway, private security and electricity sectors.
- European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE) and European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE): Joint practical guidelines on how to promote social partner initiatives to prevent and combat psychosocial hazards in education
- EFEE and ETUCE: Joint declaration on preventing and combating psychosocial hazards in the education sector
- European Public Administration Employers and Trade Union’s National and European Delegation: Well-being and occupational safety and health (OSH) in central government administrations: Tackling psychosocial risks at work
- Secafi: A guide to identifying and preventing psychosocial risks at work in the railway sector
- Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies and European Transport Workers’ Federation: Joint recommendations Identify and prevent psychosocial risks within the railway sector
- Confederation of European Security Services and UNI-Europa: Joint declaration by CoESS and UNI-Europa on work-related stress
- Eurelectric, European Federation of Public Service Unions and European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers Federation: Joint declaration on stress
The issue of psychosocial risks is addressed in the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021–2027. In this document, the European Commission announces an awareness campaign led by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) covering musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks. With regard to psychosocial risks, European social partners are due to assess emerging issues linked to mental health at work and to put forward guidance for action.
Since the publication of the strategic framework, the European Parliament has been putting pressure on the Commission to address psychosocial risks. On 10 March 2022, the Parliament adopted a resolution in which its members called on the Commission:
to propose, in consultation with the social partners, a directive on psychosocial risks and well-being at work aimed at the efficient prevention of psychosocial risks in the workplace, such as anxiety, depression, burnout and stress, including risks caused by structural problems such as work organisation.
On 5 July 2022, by an overwhelming majority, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) passed a resolution calling on the Commission and the Member States to act as soon as possible to address psychosocial risks. MEPs believe that the current measures are insufficient and ineffective, with regard to the assessment and management of psychosocial risks, and call for the adoption of ‘prevention plans for mental health risks in all workplaces’. MEPs want the Commission to propose ‘a legislative initiative, in consultation with social partners, on the management of psychosocial risks and well-being at work in order to effectively prevent [these] risks in the workplace, including online’.
- European Commission: EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021–2027
- European Parliament: Resolution of 10 March 2022 on a new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020 (including better protection of workers from exposure to harmful substances, stress at work and repetitive motion injuries), 2021/2165(INI)
- European Parliament: Resolution of 5 July 2022 on mental health in the digital world of work, 2021/2098(INI)
Related dictionary terms
Autonomous agreement ; European Agency for Safety and Health at Work ; European collective agreements ; framework agreements ; Framework Directive on health and safety ; harassment and violence at work ; health and safety ; risk assessment ; stress at work ; working environment
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