Why You Need to Act Now to Create a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

The Federal Industrial Relations Minister and Work, Health and Safety ministers from all states and territories met in May 2021 to discuss current WHS laws and regulations following community concern and Marie Boland’s review of model work, health and safety laws (the Boland review).

There was a majority agreement to amend the model WHS regulations to deal with psychological injury that occurs at the workplace. Additionally, there was unanimous agreement to introduce gross negligence (or equivalent) as a fault element in the Category 1 offences in the model WHS laws. A majority also agreed to a significant increase to fines and imprisonment terms for Category 1 offences in the WHS laws.

Category 1 offences apply when a worker is killed at work or suffers serious physical or psychological injury or illness or is exposed to such risks. The states and territories are now reviewing their state laws and regulations regarding these recommendations.

In line with this Safe Work NSW has released a new code of practise to managing psychosocial risk. Taking effect 28 May 2021, the code sets out what employers should do, in line with their responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). The key focus is to ensure that psychological hazards have the same legal ramifications as physical hazards in the workplace.

Why the focus on Psychosocial risk?

This focus comes off the back of public concern, the Boland Review, the introduction of the new ISO:45003 standard and the alarming statistics that continue to grow each year:

Psychological injury claims are continuing to increase every year, having risen by 58% from the 2018-19 to 2019-20 period according to Safe Work Australia.

Psychological injury work cover claims, currently account for 9% of all claims and it is projected to reach 30% by 2030.

Currently, psychological injury results in 26.6 weeks off work and at a cost of $45,900 per claim.

On average 7,984 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions each year.

Source: Safework Australia

What does this mean for employers?

Employers are required to meet their duties as described in WHS laws and regulations or risk being penalised. This puts the onus on employers to systematically identify psychosocial hazards and their risks to their employees. Once identified they will then need to either control or manage the risk and ensure that the appropriate records are kept to demonstrate how psychosocial hazards are reported, raised and managed within their work environment.

What are psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards at work are aspects of work and situations that may cause a stress response, which in turn can lead to psychological or physical harm. Common psychosocial hazards include:

Role overload (high workloads or job demands) or role underload (low workloads or job demands)

Poor support from supervisors and managers

Inadequate reward and recognition

Exposure to traumatic events

Conflict or poor workplace relationships between workers

Bullying, harassment and workplace violence

Hazardous physical working environments, and

Remote or isolated work, arising from the location, time or nature of the job.

What are the benefits of a psychologically healthy workplace?

When organisations and leaders put the psychological health of their employees at the forefront, this results in an increase in productivity, innovation, creativity, team work, absenteeism, which can increase the profitability of an organisation and make your workplace an employer of choice.

How do you ensure your organisation is compliant?

A psychologically healthy and safe workplace does not happen by chance or guesswork. You need to identify what could go wrong and what the consequences could be. Then you need to do whatever is ‘reasonably practicable’ to control – eliminate or minimise – psychological health and safety risks arising from your workplace.

What are the key steps involved?

Step 1: Identify

The first step is to identify psychosocial hazards and risks in your organisation. This can be done via consulting with your workers, conducting focus groups, or using survey tools to gather information. Another option is to partner with a specialist organisation such as Aspect Group to conduct an independent needs assessment.

Step 2: Assess

Consider the implications if workers are exposed to the hazards and risks. You can use a tool such as the People at Work – a free and validated psychosocial risk hazard assessment tool. Alternatively, Aspect Group provides advisory services to help organisations to assess and more importantly, implement the recommendations on a step-by-step basis.

Step 3: Control

The next step requires you to create a strategy to fix and/or control for the identified psychosocial hazards and risks. Where possible, eliminate or minimise the risk through planning and prevention. This may involve reviewing and amending policies, procedures , and work practices based on the risks/hazards identified.

Step 4: Review and evaluate

Lastly, it’s important to regularly review and evaluate control measures to ensure they are working as planned and evolve as required.

Our Creating a Psychologically Healthy Workplace workshop will help you to cut through the complexity to ensure that you meet the new laws and regulations, reduce the financial impacts on your organisation, and most importantly look after the psychological health of your employees.