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Basic Tasks and Steps for Implementation

Psychosocial risk assessment

Taking mental load into consideration in the risk assessment is obligatory for employers. Yet how does it actually work at the practical level? You can find some useful information about how this legal obligation can be fulfilled here.

In many areas of the economy, recent years have seen strong increases in the recorded levels of mental load. In this respect, employees' mental health has become more and more important. Rates of sick leave and the number of employees opting for early retirement are rising from one year to the next due to increase of diagnosed mental health disorders. There are certainly many reasons for this development. But there is no doubt that our world of work is constantly becoming more varied, complex and dynamic, thereby creating the potential for greater levels of load. In this context, the employer also has a responsibility. He must ensure that work does not cause illnesses - neither physically nor mentally. In this regard, the psychosocial risk assessment may be helpful.

The psychosocial risk assessment - actively identifying and reducing work-related risks

Risk assessments serve to assess and to design the working requirements and conditions so that risks for employees’ health and safety are minimised. For this purpose, the employer initially needs to identify the risks present in the workplace and then assess which actions are required to reduce them. If necessary, he needs to subsequently take the appropriate measures and check the effectiveness of the implemented actions. If circumstances change, they must adapt the measures accordingly as well.

In addition to the technical-substance-related risks and the physical workload, mental workload needs to be taken into account as well. This was made clear by the legislator in 2013 with an amendment to clause 6 in sec. 5 of the Safety and Health at Work Act (ArbSchG).

Mental load as part of the risk assessment – what is it all about?

It is important for organisations to know that the risk assessment does not involve assessing the mental condition or health of the employees themselves. It rather focuses on the assessment and the design of working conditions, aiming to minimise psychosocial risks. In this respect, the following are of importance:

  • the contents of the work,
  • the organisation of the work (including the organisation of working time),
  • the social relationships at the workplace, and
  • the working environment.

The individual factors to be observed are specified in the "Characteristics and contents of the risk assessment" list, upon which supporters of the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (GDA) have agreed. This also forms part of the joint declaration by the trade unions, the German employers' associations and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. You can find both of these under "Links".

Step-by-step: implementation of the psychosocial risk assessment

For the psychosocial risk assessment, it is necessary to plan and implement the following steps:

  1. Specifying activities/areas in which the risk assessment needs to be carried out,
  2. Identifying the psychosocial risk factors,
  3. Assessing the psychosocial risk factors,
  4. Developing and implementing measures (if required),
  5. Checking the effectiveness of the implemented measures,
  6. Updating/refreshing the risk assessment in case of changing conditions,
  7. Documentation.

Information and support

The employer has a lot of freedom regarding the selection of the specific approaches and methods. He can choose or develop approaches in a responsible manner that takes the specific circumstances in the organisation into account. However, the implementation of the psychosocial risk assessment is far from arbitrary. The question of whether the methods and approaches to be chosen are expedient or not is primarily determined by an effective recognition and reduction of the psychosocial risks at work. The general scope of the implementation is based on the recommendations of the GDA, to which the federal government, the federal states, the accident insurers and the social partners have agreed. You can also find these under "Links".

Accident insurers and governmental occupational health and safety authorities, as well as employer associations, trade unions and service providers, supply a wide variety of practical guidelines, information and consultation materials. These can offer informed assistance and sensible support during the implementation of the psychosocial risk assessment. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) provides recommendations on tried-and-tested and technically appropriate approaches in a reference book which is available on our German Website.

There is no one best way

Before approaching the psychosocial risk assessment, employers should familiarise themselves with the requirements and possibilities of the implementation. For this purpose, the use of the consultation and support offers of the accident insurers and occupational health and safety authorities is recommended. However, there is no "one best way" for every organisation. Risks caused by mental load can be identified and collected within the scope of

  • employee surveys,
  • observational job analysis,
  • workshops with the affected employees and managers,

for example.

The employer is responsible for determining approaches and instruments which suit the specific conditions in the organisation in agreement with the organisational representatives. The participants should take a sufficient amount of time for this task and have the requisite basic knowledge. It is also recommended to first test the approaches before applying them in the entire organisation.