Organizational matters

This section covers issues that can affect workers and may need action from employers at an organizational level.

Each segment explains how factors in the workplace can have an impact, either because of the nature of the work or the way it is managed. The sections relate to hazards and health issues employers may need to assess and take action to deal with – they could be included in the safety and health policy.

Ergonomics and human factors

People are involved in all aspects of work. That is why ILO recognizes the important role ergonomics and human factors can play in helping to avoid accidents and ill health at work.

Human factors are concerned with three interrelated areas:
  • what people are being asked to do (the job and its characteristics);
  • who is doing it (the individual and their competence);
  • where they are working (the organization and its attributes).

The job

This includes the nature of the task, the workload, the working environment, the design of displays and controls, and training to carry out the job.

The individual

This includes their competence, skills, personality, attitude, and risk perception.
Individual characteristics influence behaviour in complex ways. Some characteristics (such as personality) are fixed, whereas others (such as skills and attitudes) may be changed or enhanced.

The organization

This includes work patterns, the culture of the workplace, resources, communications, leadership etc. Such factors are often overlooked during the design of jobs but have a significant influence on individual and group behaviour.

Find out more
  1. Ergonomic Checkpoints app. The Ergonomic Checkpoints app allows users to create interactive checklists of ergonomic checkpoints to use in the workplace. The app also includes best practice recommendations for taking action and implementing effective improvements in ergonomics in the workplace.
  2. More advice on human factors 
  3. Ergonomics and human factors at work 

Shift work and fatigue

Irregular hours of work and work patterns that include night and early morning shifts can lead to disruption of the internal body clock, sleeping difficulties and fatigue.

If workers are fatigued, they will be less alert, their reaction time will be slower, they will find it harder to concentrate and they may make poor decisions. This can lead to accidents and injuries.

What should employers do?

If employers operate a shift work system or their workers are required to work irregular hours, they should assess any risks that arise from their working pattern and take action to tackle any problems they identify.

Factors that employers should consider during risk assessment are:
  • the workload;
  • the work activity;
  • shift timing and duration;
  • direction of shift rotation. It is better for the shifts to run in a ‘forward rotation’, i.e. morning/afternoon/night;
  • the number and length of breaks within a shift;
  • rest periods between shifts.
Find out more
  1. More advice on managing shift work
  2. Managing shift work: Health and safety guidance 

Health surveillance

Health surveillance means having a system to look for early signs of ill health caused by substances and other hazards at work. It includes keeping health records for individuals and may involve routine self-checks, questionnaires or medical examinations to inform the employer (or self-employed person) if corrective action is needed.

Corrective action may involve referral for treatment and/or adaptations to work for individuals affected. More importantly, as an indication that controls may be failing, it should ensure a review of risk management and action to prevent further harmful exposures.

What should employers do?

If legislation or risk assessments identify the need to have health surveillance arrangements in place, these should be appropriate for the health risks workers are exposed to. Employers must determine whether the nature of the work performed requires health surveillance.

They should ask themselves whether any of their workers is at risk from, for example:
  • noise or vibration;
  • solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health;
  • asbestos, lead or work in compressed air;
  • ionising radiations or commercial diving – these may require a particular type of high level medical surveillance, which must be carried out by a competent doctor.

If employers need to put in place a health surveillance system, they should involve workers and their representatives at an early stage, so they understand its purpose and their roles and responsibilities in any resulting health surveillance programme.

Find out more
  1. Technical and ethical guidelines for workers' health surveillance. The purpose of these guidelines is to assist all those who have responsibilities to design, establish, implement and manage workers' health surveillance schemes that will facilitate preventive action towards ensuring a healthy and safe working environment for all.
  2. HSE’s health surveillance site 

Work-related stress

Pressure is part of work and keeps us motivated and productive. But too much pressure, or pressure that lasts for a long time, can lead to stress, which undermines performance, is costly to employers, and can damage both physical and mental health of all workers, management and shop floor.

Common causes of work-related stress include too much or too little work, lack of control over the work being done, e.g. process or target-led tasks, conflicting priorities and major change. There are actions employers can take to reduce the pressure these things can cause.

What should employers do?

Where stress may be a problem, employers should include it in their risk assessment and take action to tackle it.

An effective risk assessment approach to tackling stress should include the following:
  • Measure the current situation (using surveys and/or other techniques).
  • Work in partnership with workers and their representatives to make practical improvements.
  • Agree and share an action plan with workers and their representatives.
  • Regularly review the situation to ensure it continues to improve.
Some organizations use management standards which provide a step-by-step process for tackling stress. They have been designed to be useful to all organizations, whatever the size or type.

The Standards identify six factors that cause stress at work, and help employers think about whether they are present in their business, and give employers ideas on how to control them and produce an action plan. The six factors are:
  • Demands – including issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control – how much say the worker has in the way they do their work.
  • Support – including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organization, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships – including promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organization and whether the organization ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change – how organizational change (large or small) is managed and communicated.

Find out more

  1. Stress Prevention at Work Checkpoints app The app is designed for use by anyone interested in workplace stress prevention: national authorities, company and organizational managers, trade unions, human resource personnel, and occupational safety and health practitioners.
  2. Workplace Stress: A collective challenge This report aims at presenting trends on work-related stress in both developed and developing countries with a view to raising awareness of the magnitude of the problem in the new context of the world of work.
  3. HSE’s stress site 
  4. How to tackle work-related stress: A guide for employers on making the Management Standards work 
  5. Working together to reduce stress at work: A guide for employees 
  6. Napo in... when stress strikes

Drugs and alcohol

Abuse of alcohol, drugs and other substances can affect health, work performance and safety. Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workers in the workplace. Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by their actions while they are at work.

What should employers do?

  • They may wish to involve organizations that can offer help and support, or give workers their contact details.
  • They may decide that strict standards are needed because of safety-critical jobs, these should be agreed with workers in advance.
  • They should determine if disciplinary procedures may be needed where safety is critical.
  • If employers decide that workplace drug testing is appropriate and allowed by national legislation, they may need to consider the type of testing, how the sample is collected and how to prevent its contamination.

Find out more

  1. HSE’s alcohol and drugs site 

Violence and harassment at work

Work-related violence is not just physical – it includes sexual and other harassment and bullying for example verbal abuse and threats. It is more common in those jobs where workers have face-to-face contact with the public but it can also be present in companies located in areas where jobs are scarce and through poor management practices.

When physical violence is involved, the injuries to those workers affected are obvious. However, workers subjected to harassment and bullying which can include manipulating a person’s reputation, isolating the person, withholding information, assigning tasks that do not match capabilities or giving impossible goals and deadlines, affecting the person’s training opportunities, professional exposure, professional promotion, transfer, contract renewal, dismissal, recruitment, remuneration, qualification, reclassification and repeated verbal abuse and threats from fellow workers, management or members of the public, may suffer from amongst other things stress, anxiety and depression.

What should employers do?

Where violence/harassment may be a problem, employers should include it in their risk assessment and take action to tackle it. If it is an issue they should;
  • Ensure that workers can freely report (anonymously if desired) any violence including sexual and other harassment/bullying they have suffered.
  • Discuss workplace violence/harassment at the regular OSH committee meetings (this could be a standing agenda item)
  • Consider whether the work demands/layout of the work area adds to the problem:
    • Does work pressure lead to excessive demands on workers
    • Are supervisors treating all workers in the same manner
    • Is overcrowding taking place?
    • Is there a safe area to count cash?
    • Are there areas where attacks could take place without being witnessed?
    • Can entry be controlled and do you know who is in the workplace
  • Ask workers whether they ever feel threatened and encourage them to report incidents. Keep detailed records, including those of verbal abuse and threats.
  • Try to predict what might happen – there may be a known pattern of violence/harassment linked to certain work situations.
  • Train workers so they can spot the early signs of aggression and avoid it.
  • Consider physical security measures, e.g. CCTV or alarm systems and coded security locks.
  • Support victims, e.g. with debriefing or specialist counselling and time off work to recover.

Find out more
  1. HSE’s violence site
  2. Work-related violence: Case studies – Managing the risk in smaller businesses