The mental wellbeing of workers and workplace psychological health and safety has been a hot topic of conversation for the past few years now. Since ISO45003 was released in 2021, there have been many discussions about how employers are caring for their staff’s mental health and what systems (if any) are in place to identify and control psychosocial hazards. And while there has been lots of chatter, there is still some uncertainty as to what business's responsibilities are, whether they legally have to take action, and where does one even start.
Let's do a quick recap, see what regulations are now in place, debunk a couple of misconceptions and provide some ideas on how to get started.
Defining Workplace psychological health and safety
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety states that a psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that “promotes workers’ psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways.” Simply this definition encapsulates two main responsibilities for employers: 1) to promote wellbeing and 2) to prevent harm. (Why a Canadian definition? Well, they are the frontrunners in workplace psychological health and safety and were the first country to have a National Standard).
Workplace psychological health and safety employs a framework that encompasses all workers' mental health and wellbeing and essentially applies a risk management approach to the identification of psychosocial hazards and putting controls in place to mitigate those risks, thereby preventing harm or stress.
Psychosocial hazards are aspects of work that have the potential to cause not only psychological but also physical harm. They can arise from poor work design or systems or work, the work environment, plant/equipment used at a workplace or workplace interactions, behaviours and culture.
The Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work identifies 14 psychosocial hazards:
- Job demands
- Low job control
- Poor support
- Lack of role clarity
- Poor organisational change management
- Inadequate reward and recognition
- Poor organisational justice
- Traumatic events or material
- Remote or isolated work
- Poor physical environment
- Violence and aggression
- Harassment, including sexual harassment and or gender-based harassment, racism, ablism, agism, and conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions
For detailed information, check out the SafeWork Australia and Comcare websites. They both define each psychosocial hazard, the associated risks they pose and ways to identify them in the workplace. Additionally, you can find examples of controls and measures to eliminate or minimise these hazards in the workplace.
The law does not require employers to take on the role of a psychologist – rather, it requires a consideration of the reasonable measures that can be taken to identify risk and implement effective control measures (Maddox).
Jurisdictional duty per state in Australia
Queensland: April 1 2023, they adopted the Managing the Risk of Psychosocial Hazards at Work, Code of Practice 2022.
South Australia: New regulations and the Code of Practice come into effect December 2023.
New South Wales: May 2021, they adopted the Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work.
Western Australia: February 2022, the Code of Practice: Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace commenced.
Tasmania: January 2023, Tasmania's Code of Practice for Managing Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace came into effect.
Northern Territory: July 2023, they adopted the Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011
Victoria: Have Proposed OHS Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations
Please note: The Codes of Practice provide detailed information on how you can achieve the standards required under Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Codes of Practice do not replace the WHS laws but can help provide an understanding of how to apply legal requirements (FEFO).
Some Common Misconceptions
Workplace Stress Is Inevitable: Many people believe that stress is an inherent part of work and that nothing can be done to reduce it. However, organisations can implement measures to manage and reduce workplace stressors, such as excessive workloads and unrealistic deadlines.
Psychological Health and Safety is a One-Size-Fits-All: What works for one organisation may not work for another. Each workplace is unique, and strategies for promoting psychological health and safety should be tailored to the specific needs and challenges of the organisation and its employees.
It's Enough to Have Policies in Place: Having policies related to psychological health and safety is a good start, but it's not enough. Effective consultation, implementation, ongoing training, and a culture that values and promotes psychological wellbeing are essential for success.
Addressing Psychological Health and Safety is Expensive: Some organisations believe that addressing psychological health and safety will be costly and resource-intensive. While there may be some initial investments, the long-term benefits, including improved employee well-being and productivity, often outweigh the costs.
Before starting, it is important to reach out to other teams in your business, such as Safety, Leadership, HR, and People and Culture. More than likely, you will need a collaborative approach, and each team may have resources, data, and or knowledge to get the project started quicker than you think.
Just like with physical risks, the risk management process can be applied:
Identifying Psychological Hazards
This should be completed alongside consultation with workers and can include:
- Reviewing organisational structures
- Inspecting the condition of physical workplaces and equipment
- Looking into specific job requirements and observing how tasks are carried out
- Analysing workplace data (employee happiness surveys, incident data, human resources data or workers' compensation claims).
- Employing the help of an external party who can carry out a Psychosocial Risk Assessment of your workplace.
Next, evaluate the associated risks for each identified psychosocial hazard. In accessing the risks, think in terms of duration, frequency, and severity of exposure.
It's important in these two first steps you examine all your existing systems, policies, programs and procedures that support or contribute to both workers' mental and physical wellbeing.
Implement Control Measures
Introduce measures to eliminate or reduce the identified risks. Controls can include but are not limited to; implementing required training, changes to policies and processes and employing new ways for workers to report hazards and concerns confidentially and safely if required. When choosing control measures, consider all the hazards present and how they may interact and combine.
Monitor and Review Controls
Regularly review the effectiveness of the implemented measures, and if they not managing exposure to risks or are creating new risks, you must make changes as required.
As the landscape changes, more resources are becoming available, so keep an eye out for any that may help your business. Lucidity also works with a bunch of partners who can help you get started and assist you through the journey. Reach out today.
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