As we navigate the challenges of the modern workplace and the new changes in Australian Workplace Health and Safety jurisdictions such as in Queensland with Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work, Code of Practice (2022) managing the psychosocial risks has moved from something was “sort of covered” under workplace health and safety laws (and other jurisdictions) to a direct and primary obligation for Employers.
Psychosocial risks are risks that arise from the interaction between people and their work environment.
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.
Some examples of what may result from these risks include but are not limited to:
- Work-related mental illness and stress potentially caused working long hours and workload pressure
- Workplace Bullying and harassment caused by physical or verbal abuse
- Discrimination and differential treatment on factors such as age, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
For more information check out Psychosocial Risks A New Dawn For Work Health And Safety In Queensland.
How to identify them?
The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work, Code of Practice (2022) provides some guidelines to Employers to assist in identifying psychosocial risks and hazards. These are based around the notion of consultation and this can be extrapolated to a number of practical steps including:
- Increasing communication from manager to staff members
- Observing behaviour of employees especially in areas where traditionally the Employer has had a lot of complaints, staff turnover and retention problems
- Undertaking a staff survey to identify hazards to psychological well being and safety – data can be useful in the identification process
- Undertaking position reviews
- Undertaking work environment assessment
- Reviewing policies and procedures
- Review absenteeism and employee leave and identify any patterns that may emerge from the analysis
- Reviewing external provider programs such as employee assistance programs and counselling services to ensure they are fit for purpose
- Undertake training for people managers
- Overall commitment by leadership, executive and management teams to prioritise psychosocial safety and well being
Some examples of Psychosocial Hazards (6 of them)
Psychosocial risks are those that relate to the psychological and social environment in which employees work. They can include factors such as:
- high or low job demands – unreasonable time pressures, unachievable deadlines, demanding work hours or shift work
- poor or lack of support – poorly maintained or inadequate access to supervisory support, limited opportunities to engage with co-workers during the work shift
- low role clarity – a worker being given conflicting information about work standards and performance expectation
- low reward and recognition – no fair opportunities for career development
- remote or isolated work – fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers and workers who spend a lot of time travelling, workers working alone from home or socially isolated away from home over lengthy periods of time
- bullying – repeated incidents of practical jokes, belittling or humiliating comments,
These risks can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing and lead to increased stress levels, anxiety, depression, and other mental health illness and problems. Identifying that the workplace has a lack of psychological safety will likely lead to higher risks.
If not managed effectively, psychosocial risks can also result in absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover from a practical commercial level. From a legal perspective this can include prosecutions leading to fines being sought and even potentially used as a “workplace right” being utilised in other jurisdictions, the main one being General Protections.
Once potential psychosocial hazards have been identified, there are a number of steps that can be taken to manage them. These include:
- developing policies and procedures on managing psychosocial risks and hazards at work,
- providing training for managers on how to identify and support employees who are at risk
- identifying suitable third parties to assist with identifying the risks and taking the next steps to assess, review and put control measures in place.
This area is relatively new and will require some forethought on what steps need to be taken right now. There is major difficulty in managing psychosocial risks and assistance may be required.
About the Author
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.