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In labour risk prevention, we call psychosocial factors those health risk factors which originate in the organisation of work and which can generate physiological, emotional (anxiety, depression, apathy, etc.), cognitive (restriction of the ability to concentrate or to make decisions, etc.) and behavioural (substance abuse, violence, etc.) responses and which can be precursors of of sickness in some intense, frequency and duration circumstances.

<<Psychosocial risks in labour>> have been defined by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work as <<those aspects in the design, organisation and direction of work and its social environment which may cause psychical, social or physical health damages in workers>>.

Psychosocial risks in the working world may cause cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems which may result in physical and mental health problems, which are caused or favoured by the conditions in which the labour activity takes place.

Psychosocial risk factors at work frequently act during long periods of time either continually or intermittently.   Psychosocial risk factors are interrelated enhancing or minimizing their effects on health according to the risk level in which they are placed.

The conclusions on the second edition of the Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging  Risks (ESENER-2) show that risk factors related to psychosocial and musculoskeletal disorders are the most extended ones in working centres around Europe.

Psychosocial risk factors

According to the guidelines found in the 2014-15 European Campaign “Healthy works: handling stress” from the European Agency of Health and Security at Work, working conditions which may cause psychosocial risks are the following:

  • Excessive workload or time pressure
  • Contradictory demands
  • Lack of clarity regarding the worker’s functions
  • Inefficient communication
  • Bad management of changes within the organization
  • Lack of support by the directive or work mates
  • Disagreement in interpersonal relations
  • Harassment, aggression and violence
  • Difficulties when combining labour and personal compromises



As it has already been pointed out, psychosocial working environments may have consequences on physical, psychical and social health on workers.

Workers under labour stress may end up developing health problems. Negative effects on single workers have consequences in the whole organisation and in society.

For the single workers, negative effects can be, among others:

  • Irritability, despondency, anxiety, exhaustion, depression.
  • Concentration difficulties, difficulties to make decisions, difficulties to learn new things.
  • Adoption of nervous habits, aggressiveness, violence.

At an organisation level, negative effects include the following:

  • Decrease of performance
  • Increase of absenteeism;
  • Increase of attendance
  • Increase of accidents and injuries.

At a social level, negative effects include the following:

  • Increase of sanitary services costs
  • Decrease of sanitary services efficiency


Management of psychosocial risks

Evaluation of psychosocial risks is still considered as the best way to fight them.

Risk evaluation is a necessary step to detect, prevent and/or correct possible problematic situations related to psychosocial risks. It is usually a multifactorial evaluation, which takes into account aspects of the task, work organisation, environment, performance, etc.

Psychosocial risks have to be evaluated and managed.

One of the main axis in the management of psychosocial risks is workers’ participation in the whole process. It is necessary to sensitize, inform the staff and achieve their participation for an adequate management of psychosocial risks. It is key to get a participative focus in which business people, directives and workers actively participate in the management of psychosocial risks.



European agency for security and health at work
Psychosocial risk portal of the INSHT