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Psychological Health and Safety at Work

The growing focus on psychosocial risks in the workplace

Published: October 06, 2022
Two females working on a computer together.
Psychological Health and Safety at Work

New changes to the New South Wales work health and safety laws and proposed amendments to Victorian laws recognise that psychosocial hazards in the workplace can be as harmful to employee safety as physical hazards.

Recent legislative changes to Australian Model WHS regulations and SafeWork Australia’s release of a Model WHS Code of Practice for managing psychosocial hazards at work means that, if they haven’t already, employers should review their risk management processes relating to psychosocial hazards in the workplace. 

Under existing WHS laws, employers have a duty of care to ensure the physical and mental health and safety of their employees. Recent changes to Model WHS regulations impose obligations on employers to manage and guard against psychosocial hazards in the workplace. The Code clarifies how employers can meet these obligations. It encourages workplaces to adopt risk management processes that identify, manage, and control psychosocial hazards in the workplace. 

Psychosocial hazards may cause psychological and physical harm to workers and can come from various factors including the design or management of work, the working environment, or workplace interactions or behaviours. Some examples include low job control, poor support, remote work, bullying, inadequate reward, and more. 

Psychologically unsafe workplaces can result in increased absences, higher staff turnover, reduced product or service quality, more frequent recruitment and training, as well as potential damage to an organisation’s reputation. 

Codes of Practice and Government Legislation 

The SafeWork Australia Code of Practice provides guidance on how to comply with the legal standards imposed by the Model WHS Act. Some examples of how psychological health and safety and psychosocial risk management have been adopted in different states are:

  • New South Wales has changed their work health and safety laws, recognising workplace psychosocial hazards and requiring employers to manage risks. The laws are designed to provide workplaces with an understanding of their responsibilities and outline control measures. The laws came into effect on 1 October 2022. 

  • Victoria looks soon to follow suit with the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations (Vic). It recognises psychosocial hazards are just as harmful to employee safety as physical ones and provides employers with guidance on their obligations on how to protect workers from psychological harm and injury. The legislation is currently under review and is subject to approval by the Minister. 

  • Western Australia has adapted the SafeWork NSW Code for its use.
  • Queensland has made amendments to their WHS act to define psychosocial hazards and risks. Under the act, employers have a duty to control and manage those risks. Additionally, a new Code of Practice is due to come into effect on 1 April 2023. 

What should employers do to act in accordance with the Code and the Model Regulations?

  • Identify the existing and potential psychosocial hazards

Consult with employees to identify existing and potential hazards in the workplace. Additionally, it may be beneficial to review past data that can help identify trends.

  • Assess and review measures and risks 

Assess and review the severity of psychosocial hazards to identify the possible impact. Assess and review the measures in place to minimise risk to health and safety from these hazards. 

  • Control the risks

Implement control measures to mitigate the risks of psychosocial hazards. As far as practicable, an employer should eliminate the hazards, just like with risks to physical health and safety. If this is not possible, risks should be minimised. 

  • Continually review 

Control measures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are effective. 

  • Record processes 

Employers should ensure they have a record of their risk management processes, assessments, management, reviews, and outcomes concerning their identified psychosocial hazards. 

A new standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace

ISO has recognised the importance of psychologically healthy and safe workplaces with the release of ISO 45003:2021 – Psychological health and safety at work — Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks. It is the first global standard that provides practical guidance on managing psychological health in the workplace. The standard provides a structured framework to develop, implement, maintain, and continually improve mental health and psychological safety in the workplace. 

How can PwC help you?

Training

As psychological health and safety in the workplace becomes an important consideration for businesses large and small,  we have launched a brand new training course that will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of ISO 45003. 

In this 2 day course, we will cover the principles of psychological health and safety risk, workplace risk factors, planning to address risks and opportunities, and much more. 

The training is virtually delivered so you can attend from anywhere. Our online digital classroom emulates our face to face environment with your trainer and classmates live and interactive over the platform. 

We have courses on 7 – 8 November 2022 and 7 – 8 March 2023. Find out more here

Gap Audit 

As a Certification Body, we have significant experience in ISO Certification. Contact us to review your existing psychological health, safety, and well-being practices and compare them with the guidance in ISO 45003. As ISO 45003 is a guidance standard, accredited certification cannot be granted, but with an increasing regulatory focus on psychologically healthy and safe workplaces, following the guidance in ISO 45003, should place your organisation in good stead. Enquire here for more information. 

This article was updated on 23 November 2022 to include the Queensland Code of Practice and WHS law amendment. The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change. 

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