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Psychosocial Hazards

Employers are responsible for ensuring their workplace is safe for employees. This includes both physical and psychological safety.

What are psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm. A psychosocial risk, on the other hand, is a risk that arises from a psychosocial hazard.

Psychosocial hazards come about due to the design or management of work, the working environment, or from workplace interactions or behaviours (including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression, and violence). They can include the demands of a job, as well as flexibility and autonomy, workplace interactions, and the physical environment of a workplace itself.

Examples of psychological hazards include:

  • unreasonable or excessive time pressures or role overload,
  • intense or sustained high mental, physical, or emotional effort required to do the job,
  • excluding a worker from work-related activities,
  • exposure to an unpleasant or hazardous working environment (including bullying and harassment), and
  • poor workplace relationships.

What are the benefits of managing psychosocial hazards for employers?

To meet their primary duty of care requirements, employers must “eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable.”

“Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased, and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs,” Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter says. “Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity”.

What are the changes?

The amended regulations include specific duties for employers to manage psychosocial risks by:

  • identifying reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to risks,
  • eliminate risks so far as is reasonably practicable,
  • if not reasonably practicable, to minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable,
  • maintain and review control measures implemented.

As an employer, it is essential that you are aware of these recent changes and the obligations that apply to you. This can be achieved by reviewing and updating current workplace policies and procedures to incorporate a risk management process for psychosocial hazards.

Identifying psychosocial hazards

Employers must identify and assess psychological hazards. Regard must be had to ‘all relevant matters’ including:

  • the duration, frequency, and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to the psychosocial hazards,
  • how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine,
  • the design of work, including job demands and tasks,
  • the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised, and supported,
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including the provision of:
  • safe means of entering and exiting the workplace
  • facilities for the welfare of workers
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of workers’ accommodation
  • the substances and structures at the workplace
  • workplace interactions or behaviours
  • the information, training, instruction, and supervision provided to workers.

Controlling psychosocial risks

In determining what is reasonably practicable in managing psychosocial risks, it will be essential to:

  • identify as many possible reasonable control measures as you can,
  • consider which of these control measures are most effective, and
  • consider which controls are reasonably practicable in the circumstances.

Reviewing the control measures that have been implemented ensures that the control measure is still effective. Employers may want to consider:

  • Is the control measure effectively eliminating or minimising the risk?
  • Have workers been trained to work with/alongside the control measure?
  • Is there a new control measure that might better control the risk than what has already been implemented?
  • Have the risks changed to what was previously assessed?

Reporting and recording

It is important that employers record the entire risk management process, including any report or complaints that workers have made identifying psychosocial hazards. A work health and safety inspector may ask to view records regarding the psychosocial hazards at any given time, therefore employers should retain internal copies of the entire process.

Recording may include:

  • the worker complaint / report of the psychosocial hazard identified,
  • consultation with the worker(s),
  • how the risk was assessed,
  • if the risk could be eliminated, what the solution was,
  • if the risk could not be eliminated, what control measure was implemented,
  • any training for the new control measure, and
  • when reviews have been conducted or will be conducted to monitor the effectiveness of the control measure.

WHS conversations need to be commonplace in every workplace across the country, with education, innovation, and collaboration critical enablers of safety success.

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