What are psychosocial risk factors?

Physical risk factors such as force, posture and repetition can be harmful to the body and can lead to people developing musculoskeletal disorders. However, research has shown that psychosocial risk factors also need to be taken into account.

Psychosocial risk factors are things that may affect workers' psychological response to their work and workplace conditions (including working relationships with supervisors and colleagues). Examples are:

  • high workloads,
  • tight deadlines,
  • lack of control of the work and working methods.

As well as leading to stress, which is a hazard in its own right, psychosocial risk factors can lead to musculoskeletal disorders. For example, there can be stress-related changes in the body (such as increased muscle tension) that can make people more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems; or individuals may change their behaviour, for example doing without rest breaks to try and cope with deadlines.

So both the physical and psychosocial factors need to be identified and controlled in order to have the greatest benefit. The best way to achieve this is by using an ergonomic approach, which looks at achieving the best “fit” between the work, the working environment and the needs and capabilities of the workers.

Many jobs are not well designed and include some or all of the following undesirable features, which may lead to psychosocial risks:

  • workers have little control over their work and work methods (including shift patterns);
  • workers are unable to make full use of their skills;
  • workers, as a rule, are not involved in making decisions that affect them;
  • workers are expected to only carry out repetitive, monotonous tasks;
  • work is machine or system paced (and may be monitored inappropriately);
  • work demands are perceived as excessive;
  • payment systems encourage working too quickly or without breaks;
  • work systems limit opportunities for social interaction;
  • high levels of effort are not balanced by sufficient reward (resources, remuneration, self-esteem, status).

What can I do to reduce the risks of Psychosocial Factors?

As with physical risk factors, psychosocial issues are best addressed with full consultation and involvement of the workforce.

Consider the following control measures that can be often be applied to improve the working environment within your workplace:

  • reducing the monotony of tasks where appropriate;
  • ensuring there are reasonable work load (neither too much or too little) deadlines and demands;
  • ensuring good communication and reporting of problems;
  • encouraging teamwork;
  • monitoring and control shiftwork or overtime working;
  • reducing or monitoring payment systems which work on piece rate;
  • providing appropriate training.

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Updated 2020-03-21