In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the importance of addressing psychosocial risks in the workplace. This is due to the growing body of evidence linking poor mental health to a range of workplace hazards and accidents. While there is no single cause of poor mental health, work-related stressors can play a significant role. In fact, studies have shown that up to 64% of all workers will experience some form of work-related stress at some point in their careers in Australia.
So what exactly are psychosocial risks? And what can be done to mitigate them?
What is Psychosocial Risk?
Psychosocial risks are those that relate to a person’s psychological and social well-being. They can be caused by many different factors, including work-related stress, bullying, and harassment, and can lead to a range of health problems.
It is defined as a risk to the health or safety of a worker…..that:
- arises from or relates to:
- the design or management of work;
- a work environment;
- plant at a workplace; or
- workplace interactions or behaviours; and
- may cause psychological harm, whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm.
These risks could arise by way of the design of the work itself – take for example the naturally hectic area of call centres. The psychosocial risk in such environments may be higher than others due to the management of the work. Another example might be formal performance management steps taken or discussions around working from home and flexibility plans.
What is the new Primary Duty?
It is now a requirement of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act) that persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the psychological health of workers and the elimination or minimisation of risks to psychological health arising from work-related stress.
This is commonly referred to as the ‘primary duty of care’.
The primary duty of care applies to all PCBUs regardless of their size or industry sector. It is an ongoing duty that requires PCBUs to take proactive steps to identify and control psychosocial risks in the workplace.
From April 2023 the duty goes further:
- Expressly requiring a recognition to consider the psychosocial risks to meet the primary duty;
- Imposing an express obligation to manage and identify the psychosocial risks via risk management on the basis of elimination and if not reasonably practicable to do so minimisation of that risk using the hierarchy of controls
What does this mean for the duty holder?
From April 2023 there will now be a positive obligation on the duty holder to:
- Determine control measures implemented; and
- All relevant matters including:
- the duration, frequency, or severity of the exposure of workers to psychosocial hazards and how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine;
- the design of work,
- the systems of work;
- the design and layout and environmental conditions of the workplace, including
- safe means of entering and exiting the workplace; and
- facilities for the welfare of workers;
- the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of workers’ accommodation;
- the substances and structures at the workplace;
- the workplace interactions or behaviours; and
- the information, training, instruction, and supervision provided to workers.
Duty holders will need to demonstrate
- deadlines set are reasonable;
- the tools, equipment, and support provided to perform the role or meet deadlines are adequate;
- menial tasks outside of the job description are a regular feature of work;
- distribution of work and capacity;
- observation of resilience (or lack thereof); and
- sufficient workplace training
What needs to be done?
There are a number of ways to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace.
- providing support and training for employees – the NB Employment Law team are running specific management training programs to educate managers and decision-makers on the new changes, especially in the context of mental illness, psychological safety, psychosocial risks, and potential legal claims in jurisdictions such as unfair dismissal, general protections and discrimination, workers compensation and workplace health and safety – click here for more information
- implementing policies and procedures for the elimination and if not reasonably practicable to do so minimisation of that risk using the hierarchy of controls
Jonathan Mamaril, Director
Jonathan Mamaril leads a team of handpicked experts in the area of employment law who focus on educating clients to avoid headaches, provide advice on issues before they fester and when action needs to be taken and there is a problem mitigate risk and liability. With a core value of helping first and providing practical advice, Jonathan is a sought after advisor to a number of Employers and as a speaker for forums and seminars where his expertise is invaluable as a leader in this area as a lawyer for employers.