Preventing psychological harm is an essential part of creating a healthy and safe workplace. There is an increasing focus on employers to manage psychosocial hazards associated with their workplace, following the Marie Boland 2018-2019 review of Australia's model WHS laws and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing. In August SafeWork Australia published its finalised national model WHS Code of Practice for managing psychosocial hazards at work.
Head of SafeWork NSW, Natasha Mann said businesses are already implementing the 'NSW Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work', with new laws which provide workplaces with clarity on their obligations and specifying control measures they could use.
“Psychosocial risks and hazards can cause a stress response leading to psychological or physical harm. They can stem from the work itself in the way it is designed and managed, from hazardous working environments, equipment use and social factors in the workplace,” Ms Mann said.
“The new regulations require businesses to, as far as reasonably practicable, eliminate psychosocial risks and advise what should be considered when putting in place appropriate control measures.”
What are psychosocial hazards?
Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said that “under work health and safety laws, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have a positive duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent exposure to psychosocial hazards and risks".
“Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm. They can come from the way work is designed and managed, the working environment, or behaviours including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence.”
Ms Baxter said work-related psychological injuries and illness have a significant negative impact on workers, their families and business.
“On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work when compared with physical injuries.
“Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs.
“Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.”
Psychosocial hazards cover a broad field and includes hazards such as:
- job demands
- low job control
- poor support
- lack of role clarity
- poor organisational change management
- inadequate reward and recognition
- poor organisational justice, being inconsistent, unfair, discriminatory or inequitable management of decisions and applications of policies, including poor procedural justice
- traumatic events or material
- remote or isolated work
- poor physical environment
- violence and aggression
- harassment including sexual harassment, and
- conflict or poor workplace relationships or interactions.
What does this mean for employers?
The changes to the NSW Regulation mean that employers in NSW are now explicitly required to manage psychosocial risks in their workplace as well as physical risks, writes Holding Redlich. The psychosocial risks must be managed by implementing relevant control measures, having regard to the very broad factors as provided by the new provisions, such as the design of the workplace that can impact the mental health of workers. A failure to address this requirement may result in a breach of a PCBU’s duty and penalties may be imposed on both the PCBU and its officers.
About National Safe Work Month
National Safe Work Month is held every October and provides all workplaces in Australia a reminder of the importance of work health and safety.
This year’s National Safe Work Month theme know safety, work safely puts the spotlight on a range of WHS topics, including injuries and illness at work, psychological health and managing work health and safety to create a safe and healthy workplace for all.
For more information and to access the National Safe Work Month resources, go to safeworkmonth.swa.gov.au
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