pyschosocial hazards at work

On 28th May 2021, the New South Wales State Government of Australia published the newly approved Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work.

The code of practice places the requirement on all businesses in NSW to achieve compliance with the WHS Act and Work Health and Safety Regulations to provide a safe workplace that protects workers and other people from physical and psychological harm.

Although adherence to this Code is not mandatory, codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and the WHS Regulation. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates.

When psychosocial hazards at work are not effectively managed, this may increase the risk of work-related psychological and physical injuries, incidents and errors.

For this article, we summarise the Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work to guide what you can do to protect your workers and your business from the impacts of rising mental health risks in our workplaces.

What Are the Common Psychosocial Hazards at Work?

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. These stem from:

  • the way the tasks or job are designed, organised, managed and supervised (e.g. role overload where there is too much to do in a set time),
  • tasks or jobs where there are inherent psychosocial hazards and risks (e.g. remote or isolated work),
  • the equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties in physically hazardous environments (e.g. exposure to traumatic events), and
  • social factors at work, workplace relationships and social interactions (e.g. workplace conflict or poor workplace relationships between managers and their co-workers).

See our course, Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees.

Read our article, Business Must Address the Growing Mental Health Crisis.

What is Involved in Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work?

As a person conducting or undertaking a business (PCBU) you must eliminate psychosocial hazards and manage risks to health and safety arising from work so far as is reasonably practicable. There are several areas that you can work on to support a psychological risk management framework and these include:

  1. Leadership and Management Commitment where they understand their WHS obligations, their pivotal role in supporting their workforce, how to manage psychosocial matters and why managing psychosocial risks is a concern to your organisation.
  2. Consulting Workers where they share information, provide them reasonable opportunities to express views and advise them of consultation outcomes. For example, when you change work tasks and duties,  introduce new policies, procedures and systems of work or undergo an organisational restructure.
  3. Consulting Those in Your Supply Chains to understand each other’s needs and identify common psychosocial hazards, risks and controls, and opportunities to improve the health and safety of all workers and other persons affected by the activities in the supply chain.
  4. Adequate Planning to decide on the goals and processes to be used, for example, psychosocial hazard identification and risk assessment methods, confidentiality and who will be involved – managers, workers and safety representatives.

See our courses, Health & Wellbeing Fundamentals, Change, Stress and Burnout and Workload and Burnout.

See our course for leaders and managers, Creating a Psychosocially Safe Environment.

4 Steps in the Risk Management Process

The first step in managing psychosocial hazards at work is to identify the hazards. You should consider the work environment, and the nature and type of work that you do, the interactions between people at work and within your supply chain, the governance, procurement and resourcing decisions, and any significant changes such as downsizing, organisational restructuring, new work arrangements or technologies.

Read our article, The Impact of Change on Employee Mental Health.

Step two is to assess and prioritise the psychological hazards at work. You need to determine the seriousness of the risk, which workers are most at risk, the controls that you are currently using and the priority for action.

The third step is to control the psychosocial hazards and risks and to do that you should refer to the safety hierarchy of controls.

See our courses, Hierarchy of Controls and Performing a Psychosocial Risk Assessment.

Step four is proactively implementing, maintaining, monitoring and reviewing the continuing effectiveness of your control measures.

There is also a helpful guide that we can recommend: Burnout in the Digital Age: How to Avoid Workplace Stress.

Applying the Hierarchy of Controls to Psychosocial Hazards

The highest level of control in the hierarchy of controls is elimination. Good work design is concerned with specifying and organising existing and new jobs and tasks of a workgroup, or individual workers to be less hazardous. The best and most effective way to control these is at the source, that is, by substituting the current work methods with less hazardous alternatives.

However, it may not always be reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard or risk for example, where jobs have some inherent hazards such as shift work, or police dealing with violent or abusive members of the public. Then, you should minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

When redesigning work, you can consider the psychosocial hazards and look for opportunities to turn these into controls to mitigate risk. For example, where there is role overload such as excessive time pressure, role conflict, and poor practical support you can improve scheduling to minimise overload, clarify roles and responsibilities and provide additional practical support.

Physical hazards contributing to psychosocial risks should be controlled through relevant isolation and engineering controls, for example, the use of physical barriers to help control the risk of violence in the workplace.

Where hazards and risks remain even after the work has been redesigned, then you should use administrative controls, including safe systems of work, and appropriate information, training, instruction and supervision. Safe systems of work are organisational rules, policies, procedures and work practices such as rostering, working hours, task rotation and breaks.

See our article, Introducing Mental Health Programs for Business.

How Can Training Help Manage Psychosocial Hazards at Work?

As a person conducting or undertaking a business (PCBU) you must provide adequate and suitable information, training, instruction or supervision to workers. They need to understand:

  • the nature of the work and tasks to be carried out by workers,
  • the psychosocial hazards and risks associated with the work,
  • the required control measures including safe systems of work and how to comply with these, and
  • how workers should report and respond if a problem or risk arises.

You must ensure that the information, training and instruction are readily understood.

Tap into Safety‘s employee mental health training uses microlearning to tackle relevant workplace topics that impact mental health. For businesses investing in workplace mental health, the training helps by teaching useful coping strategies, guiding on where to seek help and providing information on rights and responsibilities.

Clients using the platform have seen increases in help-seeking by 100%, as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017. By encouraging help-seeking early, we reduce the escalation of serious stress claims. This assists employees to tell us when they are not well or not feeling as good as they should.

With our flexible per-use ‘credits’ low-cost model pricing, you only pay for what you use.  You can purchase any number of credits at any time that you can use within 12-months. There are no set-up fees or lock-in contracts. Try a free demo.

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