Relatively recent changes to WHS legislation (specifically the passing of the Work Health and Safety Amendment Regulation 2022, NSW) mean that employers now have an explicit duty to eliminate or minimise workplace psychosocial risks.

The Regulation defines psychosocial risk as a risk to the health or safety of a worker, or other person, arising from a psychosocial hazard.

What is a psychosocial hazard?

A psychosocial hazard is a hazard 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
  • that may cause psychological harm.

A hazard may be a psychosocial hazard whether or not it may also cause physical harm.

Examples of psychosocial hazards (as identified by Safe Work Australia) include:

  • excessive job demands
  • low job control
  • poor support
  • lack of role clarity
  • poor organisational change management
  • inadequate reward and recognition
  • traumatic events or material
  • remote work
  • violence and aggression
  • bullying and harassment

What do employers need to do?

The Regulation makes clear that employers must:

  • identify reasonably foreseeable psychosocial hazards that could give rise to health and safety risks; and
  • introduce, maintain and review control measures to eliminate (or minimise) psychosocial risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.

In determining what control measures to implement, the employer must have regard to all relevant matters, including:

  • the level of exposure of workers and others to the psychosocial hazards;
  • how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine;
  • the design and systems of work, including job demands and management of work;
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace;
  • workplace interactions or behaviours; and
  • the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.

Safe Work Australia has released an infographic (opens as PDF) to assist employers with this process. It includes a recommendation that psychosocial hazards be managed by following the same four-step risk management process that is used to manage physical hazards.

This involves undertaking the following steps in consultation with workers:

  • Identify any psychosocial risks;
  • Assess the impact of all identified risks;
  • Control risks by eliminating and minimising them as much as possible; and
  • Review any control measures implemented, to ensure they are effective.

Practical measures to control the risks identified might include things like:

  • regularly reviewing position descriptions and workloads / allocated tasks to ensure employees are not overworked or underworked, are provided sufficient support and training when undertaking difficult tasks, are given clarity on the requirements of their role, and are performing tasks based on their skill, experience and workload
  • ensuring new workers have a thorough onboarding and adequate training so they feel confident to perform their role
  • providing ongoing training to managers and supervisors on how to appropriately manage performance discussions, provide feedback to team members, and share responsibilities equitably among team members
  • keeping lines of communication between management and employees open and transparent to build trust, instil confidence in escalation processes, and resolve issues quickly
  • ensuring there is a support system in place for workers who are regularly exposed to traumatic or emotionally-intense situations, such as regularly interacting with aggressive third parties such as customers, and
  • conducting staff engagement surveys to better understand staff satisfaction levels and identify areas for improvement across the organisation with respect to the employee experience

A sample risk register for psychosocial hazards can be found here (opens as PDF). 

With claims related to psychosocial hazards increasing, and their average costs and return to work time being considerably higher than physical risks, we strongly advise clients to ensure they understand and work to address their obligations.

We can of course provide additional information and support, give us a call.

P.S. Our Success Through People Team Survey be particularly valuable in helping identify and prioritise issues related to psychosocial risks. Contact us for further information.