Physical and psychosocial strain

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Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO

Some situations at work may cause severe physical or psychological problems to your employees. This is called physical or psychosocial stress. Employees 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 improper conduct or a heavy workload can lead to stress.

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

You must prevent your employees from having excessive physical activity or strain. Knowledge institute TNO has a Physical Work Load website with tools to help you create a more sustainable working environment. You can for instance determine the risk of arm, neck or shoulder injuries using TNO’s Hand Arm Risk-assessment Method (HARM). You can then take the measures needed, such as the application of appropriate working methods and use of ergonomically designed workstations.

You must also provide your 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

Stress at work can cause physical, psychological and social problems. This is called psychosocial work strain (in Dutch). Too much or too little work pressure (in Dutch) can lead to psychosocial strain. Your employees might also experience improper conduct from others in the workplace. This often leads to psychosocial strain as well.

There are several types of improper conduct, such as:

You must prevent your employees experiencing psychosocial strain as much as possible. You must examine what the causes are, how to prevent them and how to solve any issues. In your 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’s Plan of Action. In addition, you must inform your employees about the risks involved and the measures that you have taken. You must also check if the measures are effective.

Aggression and violence against employees

You must 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 (Werkdruk en ongewenst gedrag). The results of this assessment can help you to make improvements where necessary.

Confidential adviser

A common measure to solve issues caused by improper behaviour, is to appoint a confidential adviser (in Dutch, vertrouwenspersoon).

A confidential adviser can provide information and support employees who are victim of improper conduct. They can also advise superiors and management, so they can prevent improper conduct. A confidential adviser is sworn to secrecy

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 to employees in 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 drug 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).

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Please contact the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO