Businesses must protect workers against psychosocial hazards

By CCIWA Editor 

Under the Work Health and Safety Act (WA) 2020, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the risk of psychosocial hazards in the workplace and provide “the highest level of protection”. 

CCIWA Work Health and Safety Practitioner Michelle Strother

According to CCIWA Work Health and Safety Practitioner Michelle Strother, the Act which was brought into play last year “clearly outlines our duty of care to our workers in our workplaces”.  

She says a key point of difference was “defining health to encompass psychological health”.  

The Code of Practice for managing psychosocial hazards was established for implementation in the workplace in December 2022.  

“We’ve been digesting this for a couple of months,” Strother says.  

“The underlying principle is to ensure workers and other persons are given the highest level of protection against harm to health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work as far as reasonably practicable.  

“If you're familiar with work health and safety, you will see some risk management principles applied to psychosocial hazard management."

‘As far as reasonably practical’, Strother says, means ‘practical’ within the context of your business, your operations, and your capacity and resources.  

What is a psychosocial hazard?  

A psychosocial hazard is anything that could cause psychological harm (eg. harm someone’s mental health). Common psychosocial hazards at work include:   

  • 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  
  • bullying  
  • harassment, including sexual harassment, and 
  • conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions 

Psychosocial hazards can create stress. This can cause psychological or physical harm. Stress itself is not an injury. But if workers are stressed often, over a long time, or the level of stress is high, it can cause harm.   

Psychological harm may include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disorders which are diagnosed by medical practitioners.

Physical harm can also arise from psychosocial hazards and may include musculoskeletal injuries, chronic disease or fatigue-related injuries.  

“It can be a medical condition that impacts our cardiovascular system and, obviously, our mental health. So, lots of different mechanisms that can lead to that harm," Strother says. 

Employers need to be “risk managing work better to prevent harm”, Strother says.  

“We cannot ignore the fact that we have approximately one in five of us with a varying degree of mental health challenges,” Strother says.

“Basically 20% of our population presents to work with some degree of fluctuating capacity to cope or inability to manage essentially differently to what they did yesterday.   

“So, we have a pretty good argument to be able to go ahead and prevent, as much as we can, exposure to risk.”  

Who is most at risk?  

At-risk or vulnerable workers (WA Code of Practice: Psychosocial hazards in the workplace 2022):  

  • Younger, in training, new to organisation or new to tasks  
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds  
  • Previous experience of work-replaced injury, illness or exposure to traumatic event  

Defining psychosocial hazards  

Psychosocial hazards arise from or relate to: 

  • the design or management of work; or 
  • a work environment; or 
  • plant at a workplace; or 
  • workplace interactions or behaviours; and 
  • may cause psychological harm (whether or not it may also cause physical harm).  

A very useful tool in the assessment of psychosocial hazards in the workplace is the People at Work survey. It is a step-by-step process that workplaces can use to identify and measure risks to psychological health and safety. A core part of the People at Work process is a survey tool that measures psychosocial hazards and factors. 

Psychosocial risk management

To manage psychosocial risks, an employer must: 

  • identify reasonably foreseeable hazards; 
  • eliminate risks, so far as is reasonably practicable; 
  • minimise the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • maintain implemented control measures; 
  • review, and revise control measures. 

What training do I need?  

Information and training in relation to psychosocial hazards could include:  

  • Management and supervisor training on responding to, managing and investigating complaints, reports or incidents involving psychosocial hazards, including work-related bullying, violence and aggression and sexual harassment; 
  • Understanding legal, ER and WHS implications;
  • Demonstrate expected behaviour and conduct;
  • What to do if a psychosocial hazard is identified, how to report it and how to seek help or support;
  • How to implement a system of work or do a task; 
  • Management training about implementing good work design.

CCIWA is running webinars in June, July, August, September and November: Health in the Workplace: Managing Psychosocial Hazards. Register here. 


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