Psychosocial hazards are now, formally, occupational diseases

On 25 March 2010, the International Labour Organization released an updated list of occupational diseases.  On the ILO website, it is stated that

“Mental and behavioural disorders have for the first time, been specifically included in the ILO list.”

All occupational diseases, including psychosocial hazards, had to satisfy the following criteria in order to be considered:

  • “…that there is a causal relationship with a specific agent, exposure or work process;
  • that they occur in connection with the work environment and/or in specific occupations;
  • that they occur among the groups of workers concerned with a frequency which exceeds the average incidence within the rest of the population; and
  • that there is scientific evidence of a clearly defined pattern of disease following exposure and plausibility of cause.”

The exact text from the revised List of Occupational Diseases Recommendation R194 is

“2.4. Mental and behavioural disorders

2.4.1. Post-traumatic stress disorder

2.4.2. Other mental or behavioural disorders not mentioned in the preceding item where a direct link is established scientifically, or determined by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, between the exposure to risk factors arising from work activities and the mental and behavioural disorder(s) contracted by the worker”

What this means in practice is unclear and is likely to vary from country to country in relation to recognition of UN and ILO recommendations.  What it does establish is that an international authoritative OHS body has acknowledged the existence of psychosocial hazards.

“The Eagle has landed”  however there will remain some organisations who will always believe that occupational causes of psychosocial problems belong on the same sound-stage as the Apollo moon landings.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Psychosocial hazards are now, formally, occupational diseases”

  1. Kevin,

    I agree that the matters would be better dealt with in another jurisdiction that has the capacity to provide \”natural justice\”.

    Your comment on workers compensation insurers being grouped with other insurers, I don\’t necessarily agree with. Consumers have choices in terms of how they interact with insurers of choice and there are many more legal remedies available if there is dissatisfaction, but in the workers compensation arena there are no choices and you have limited remedies so there is a substantial difference. The injured worker in effect loses control of his/her life.

    Your comment on OHS laws is very relevant and yes, it is the foundation of the entire system, however it is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not adequately and consistently enforced.

    1. Tony

      Your comments are a good example of why the South Australian workers\’ compensation needs multiple service providers.

      Over my time in business in Victoria I have swapped workers\’ compensation insurers once. I received better service and better negotiations on workcover premiums.

  2. The relationship between the workers compensation authority and an injured worker by definition is an extension of the workplace and any resultant psychosocial issues arising as result of that relationship should also be included, where the management of claims is proven as the primary cause of said psychosocial disorder.

    Maybe there is now room for claims to be made in relation to injured worker suicides, which should fall right into the \”psychosocial disease\” spectrum and therefore be eligible for compensation just for starters. There are very few injured workers who have been unfortunate enough to be on the workers compensation system for any length of time who have not developed a psychosocial disorder as a direct result of their case management. The volume of noise and complaints testifies to that.

    The compensating authorities will need to tread very carefully as \”duty of care\” issues are now well and truly on the table and there are enough concerned people out here who will certainly be looking very carefully at this issue.

    1. Tony
      I agree that the treatment of injured workers needs to be greatly improved and that claimants often feel helpless and \”drowning\” in bureaucracy and confusion. But I believe that this issue is best pursued under consumer protection laws. There are more opportunities for restitution and, perhaps, justice. There is more case law for lawyers to draw upon in preparing prosecution cases and, I believe, there are more appeal mechanisms.

      I am not sure that workers\’ compensation insurers are a special case. I group them as part of the general insurance industry and, in this context, I wonder if the stressors related to workers\’ compensation insurance are any more common that the stressors with other insurance products, such as bushfire coverage, life insurance or health insurance. I would welcome thoughts on this perspective.

      The OHS laws have a major role in preventing the injuries, illnesses and diseases and, I believe, that the strengthening and enforcement of these laws is an effective way of reducing the pain and costs of everyone associated with workers\’ compensation.


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