Stressed and Harassed Specification

It may have escaped your notice or your budget but BSI recently published a publicly available specification (PAS 1010) about managing psychosocial risks (i.e. stress, violence and harassment) in the workplace. Though it is a type of document called a PAS, they stress it is not a specification and shouldn’t be quoted as such. It’s simply guidance…that’s called a specification.

Like many of the BS (doesn’t that stand for something?) and ISO management standards, it is framed so it is consistent with the plan-do-check-act management cycle approach – but don’t be fooled into thinking “consistent with” means using those headings to describe the standard. No, they do something different and equally exciting.

The standard reminds you of the somewhat intractable nature of psychosocial risks – there are myriad causal factors and, unlike a bottle of whiskey or a super injunction, don’t expect to tackle it over night. It then goes on to explain where psychosocial risk management fits in with general organisational risk management before launching into the obligatory description of terminology. It is nice to note that harassment means harassing (amongst other things). Now I’m clear.

Then we get into the guts of the matter. Psychosocial risk management process is broken into five main steps (which can be repeated endlessly): hazard identification and risk assessment; action planning (i.e. planning the interventions); risk reduction (i.e. Implementing the interventions); evaluation and review; organisational learning and development (that’s continuous improvement). The fact that there are five is somewhat arbitrary and you could clearly do it differently but five seems to be cosmically significant – like the number of digits on a hand (well, the average hand).

Confusingly, it later introduces five essential elements of psychosocial risk management, which are different from (though similar to) the five steps. To add confusion it uses the term risk assessment in an inconsistent manner. The terminology section would lead you to believe that they will use it in the widest sense, like the HSE’s ‘five steps to risk assessment’, to cover the entire process from hazard identification to final review. But when it gets to it, because they have clearly broken out hazard identification, planning etc) it is clear that it just covers consideration of what risks arise from the hazards and their significance. This is quite a common inconsistency in health and safety – I’m sure you’re used to it by now.

In keeping with other management system standards, it also suggests that management develop a policy, because that will solve everything. It should come with all the usual bits included – a documented expression of commitment to psychosocial risk management. Doesn’t the health and safety policy already cover that?

A nice touch is that the standard introduces underlying principles for risk management. This is quite typical of management standards and modern legislation and a goodly reminder of the philosophies at work. It has chosen ten of these (quite possibly because it is double the five steps or maybe because there were ten people on the committee?). Some of these echo quality principles (as enshrined in ISO 9000), like the principle of participation and factual/evidence-based approach. These ten principles are explored and developed in quite some detail within the standard.

It has a rather useful tabulated checklist of psychosocial hazards as well as a hierarchy of interventions. The annexes are also quite good – background to the causes and effects of stress, violence and harassment as well as more detail on interventions. It finishes with examples of psychosocial risk assessment and management tools from around the world.

So overall, joking apart, it is a useful contribution. If you’re already sorted on the HSE’s free stress management standards and analysis tools then it might not add much more to your day for the money. But then again, if you want an introduction to different ways of doing it within a management system framework, then it might very much be worth your while.