What does ISO 45003 mean for your workplace mental health and wellbeing?

What does ISO 45003 mean for your workplace mental health and wellbeing?

What is ISO 45003 and how can this history-making standard help drive a much-needed shift in the understanding and implementation of health, safety and wellbeing?

Let’s answer these questions in turn.

Health and safety, reborn

Published in June 2021, ISO 45003 is a big deal. Why? For the very first time, it provides a formal framework for how to manage, and protect, mental health and wellbeing at work. How? By plugging the gap in current workplace safety guidance, with the long-overdue introduction of ‘psychosocial hazards’.

These, according to Safe Work Australia, are workplace hazards that can cause employee both psychological and physical harm from a psychological response to their work and workplace conditions.

Examples include excessive workloads, tight deadlines, conflicting demands or a lack of control over ways of working. Just like physical risk factors, the accumulation of psychosocial risks can lead to poor health and wellbeing outcomes like stress, burnout, anxiety or depression.

ISO 45003, in full, is a substantial read. And each business will read, understand and apply its wisdom differently. That being said, it pretty much breaks down into three key categories:

  • How work is designed

It’s a deep-dive exploration of how we work. Looking at roles and expectations (does a team member’s role have purpose, and value?), job control, role demands (is a worker’s job description unclear and/or unrealistic? Are their skills underused?), workload, working hours, job security, and much, much more.

  • Social factors at work

Getting personal with the interpersonal (e.g. workplace conflict, lack of social support, poor and ineffective working relationships), company culture (is L&D encouraged? Are decisions fair and reasonable?), rewards and benefits. Some are clear risk factors – bullying and violence are objectively stressful – others (like a disconnect between effort and reward), much less so.

  • Work environment 

This is basically a catalogue of hazards and stressors. Like dubious equipment (or no tools at all), a subpar environment (no space, loud noises, dim lighting), extreme conditions (working at height, or in very hot or cold temperatures) – all the unacceptable bad stuff.


The cost of workplace mental health injuries

As any employer knows, health and safety is not to be toyed with. Beyond the obvious moral and legal duty to keep your employees free from harm, getting it wrong is very costly.

Considering the majority of personal injuries happen in the workplace, workplace injuries can cause more than just a headache. In fact, they can cost businesses millions in lost productivity and compensation. According to data from Safe Work Australia, workplace injuries can cost the Australian economy around $60 million each year.

And while $60million per year is by no means small potatoes, it is tiny compared to Australia’s annual bill for poor mental health at work of $200-220 billion. And that’s before you even consider the human cost. If workplace health and safety isn’t taken seriously, employees could experience mental health problems. Lose a limb. Or worse.

So, to ensure every employee stays safe, healthy and well, it’s vital you give equal attention to both physical and mental factors.

And that’s what ISO 45003 is all about.

ISO 45003: Frequently asked questions

 What does ISO stand for? 

ISO = International Organisation of Standardisation. (Not sure why it isn’t IOS however, it is what it is.) Based in Switzerland, it’s an independent, international, non-governmental body, that brings experts together to solve a wide range of global challenges.

In very simple terms, the ISO’s job is to define best practice, so the rest of the world can follow. Because when a whole stack of industry specialists agree on the right way to do something, it provides a solid starting point to work from.

How about the other ISOs – are any relevant here?

The new standard builds on the work of ISO 45001 – which outlines how to create safer working conditions – so you can observe these in tandem if you want to. It’s not essential, though it will help.

Are ISO 45003 guidelines mandatory?

No, it’s all voluntary. (Although that’s not to say countries won’t introduce legislation around ISO 45003’s recommendations in the future.) And, just like 45001 you can get certified. This involves getting an independent third-party in, to check – and ideally, sign-off – on your A+ efforts.

Of course, given the example of chilling outcomes listed above, asking if you have to comply sort of misses the point really. It’s all just part of your duty of care. ISO 45003 isn’t niche, or for big companies alone. There’s not a business on the planet, irrelevant of size or nature, that couldn’t be a little better by at least reading and striving towards following the standard.

No matter what, don’t forget culture and behavioural change takes time. But also that even the smallest steps towards meeting the new guidelines is better than nothing at all.

How does it relate to the Sustainable Development Goals?

ISO 45003 relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals: 3 – 5 – 8 – 9 – 10 -16

What’s in it for organisations (and employees)?

If you like the idea of a healthier and happier workforce, then ISO 45003’s a great roadmap for you. Mental health and wellbeing matters – 9 in 10 Australian workers say workplace mental health is important. And while a slim majority (52%) feel their workplace is mentally healthy, those who don’t take four-times the sick leave.

Properly managing these psychosocial risks can positively impact just about every aspect and unit of your organisation. Not only that – reverse the near-endless risks, and these are your many potential benefits.

Imagine greater performance. Employee satisfaction. Fewer absences. Retaining your key talent (and attracting talent, too). Improved company reputation. A boost to the bottom line. Oh, and of course, better whole-person whole-organisation health, safety and wellbeing.

Okay, so where do I start?

Well, reading ISO 45003 in full is a solid first step. The guidelines dig deep into all aspects of planning, operations, support, evaluation, monitoring, improvement, and then some. The real power lies in the lens through which your company sees, and approaches, the health, safety and wellbeing of your people.  You can pay to download the document for around AU$250 however, you can also browse it online for FREE. Either way, the time is a valuable investment towards healthier culture change.

Because, to unlock ISO 45003’s full breadth and depth of benefits, you have to actually implement it. This means combing your company for every conceivable psychosocial hazard, and risk factor – much like a traditional health and safety risk assessment would – then doing everything in your power to stop, or mitigate, these issues.

Remember: this isn’t a mission for you alone. Getting ISO 45003 right requires buy-in, support and action from all your stakeholders.


If you’d like to enhance your skills and confidence to develop and implement a mental health and wellbeing strategy and proven practical approach aligned with ISO 45003, ENROL NOW into the Nationally Recognised Diploma of Wellness Leadership Qualification with personalised one-on-one mentoring for expert support. Developed and delivered exclusively by the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy.

Angela Derks MBA, BHSc, BComm, is the Founder CEO of the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA) - Australia's award-winning workplace wellbeing advisory and training organisation. Angela is the course developer and lead facilitator of the Nationally Recognised Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification for workplace wellbeing professionals. The ASWA Business Solutions Team provide consulting services using the award-winning ASWA whole-person, whole-organisation approach to workforce mental health and wellbeing.