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Physical and psychosocial strain

This information is provided by

Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO | Statistics Netherlands, CBS

Some situations at work may cause severe physical or psychological problems to your employees. This is called physical or psychosocial stress. They may experience health issues, such as upper limb problems, back pain and neck ache, from overuse or improper use of computer screens. Eye strain and several other afflictions regarding arms, shoulders, back and hands (repetitive strain injury, RSI) may also occur. And undesirable conduct or a heavy workload can lead to stress.

Physical and psychological problems can occur as a result of for instance:

  • computer work (screen work, sitting time)
  • (heavy) lifting, pushing, pulling
  • repetitive movements
  • working in awkward postures
  • aggression and violence
  • discrimination
  • bullying
  • sexual intimidation
  • too high or too low work pressure

On the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment’s (Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, SZW) Dutch-language website Arboportaal you can find more information on among others physical strain, organising the workplace and psychosocial strain.

Preventing physical strain

Employers in the Netherlands must prevent their employees from having excessive physical activity or strain. Knowledge institute TNO has a Physical Work Load website with tools to help employers create a more sustainable working environment. They can for instance determine the risk of arm, neck or shoulder injuries using TNO’s Hand Arm Risk-assessment Method (HARM!). Employers can then take the measures required, such as the application of appropriate working methods and use of ergonomically designed workstations. They must also provide their employees with information and instructions about how they can work in a safe and healthy manner. Is physical strain common in your industry? A Health and Safety catalogue (arbocatalogus, in Dutch) will state the arrangements on this subject.

Preventing psychosocial strain

As an employer you must prevent your employees experiencing psychosocial strain as much as possible. You must examine what the causes are, how to prevent this and how to solve these issues. In the risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E) you describe the risks for your employees. You include the measures to prevent or reduce psychosocial stress in the RI&E Plan of Action. In addition, you must inform your employees about the risks involved and the measures that you have taken.

Aggression and violence against employees

You are obliged to protect your employees against aggression and violence in the workplace. Acts of aggression can be physical or verbal and can be committed by colleagues, customers or patients. As an employer you must take measures to prevent this from happening. You must also arrange for shelter, support and aftercare. You can evaluate your anti-aggression and anti-violence initiative using the (Dutch-language) self-assessment system (Zelfinspectie Aanpak Agressie en Geweld). The results of this assessment can help you to make improvements where necessary.

Testing employees for alcohol and drugs use

Do you suspect an employee consumes alcohol or uses drugs before or during work? You are not allowed to test them. That would be a breach of privacy which is an offence. An exception applies for employees in some high risk professions, such as pilots or train drivers.

Alcohol, drugs, and medicines policy

Your risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E) reveals the risks of alcohol consumption and drugs use at work. As an employer you can arrange for rules regarding the use of alcohol, drugs, and medicines and record these in an alcohol, drugs, and medicines policy (ADM, in Dutch). You can for instance make arrangements on whether or not drinking alcohol is allowed during social office events.

Statistics: psychosocial strain

Percentage employees who indicate they have personally experienced intimidation by customers, bullying by colleagues, physical violence by customers once, often or very often in the past 12 months.

This article is related to:

This information is provided by

Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
Statistics Netherlands, CBS