The regulation of work health and safety has undergone recent changes, with regulators across Australia pushing to better address psychosocial hazards in the workplace. NSW and WA have already implemented codes of practice for psychosocial hazards. The ACT has also released a strategy for managing psychosocial hazards and Victoria has recently completed the public consultation phase for new psychological health regulations, which are expected to be made in or about mid-2022.
These changes strengthen the existing health and safety framework and help organisations recognise that hazards posing risks to psychological health are no less harmful to workers’ safety and wellbeing than physical hazards.
Implications for employers
With clearer guidance now available, it will be difficult for businesses to claim that they are not informed about how to protect workers from mental injury in the workplace.
Businesses across all industries should actively review and address whether their current WHS framework adequately protects the mental health of workers in line with the new guidance. Failing to do so could put a business at risk of breaching their statutory duties.
Key factors to consider:
- Changing approaches and actions on psychosocial health – psychosocial health risks should be treated with the same level of concern as physical health risks.
- Structural change in workplaces – going beyond the level of policies and training and instead looking at instigating more structural changes to the way work is designed and managed, especially in areas where psychosocial hazards are more likely to develop.
- Enhanced enforcement – there will be more enforcement by regulators with respect to psychosocial risks.
What are some of the changes in each State and Territory?
Australian Capital Territory
WorkSafe ACT’s Strategy for Managing Work-Related Psychosocial Hazards 2021-2023 captures the regulator’s approach to achieving compliance in the area of work-related psychosocial hazards. Strong statements are outlined by the regulator, warning duty holders who fail to address psychosocial hazards in their workplace that they will be held to account. For example:
“Our enforcement priorities are clear and all duty holders in the ACT will be held to account… WorkSafe ACT itself will continue to develop its capacity and capability to drive duty holders to achieve compliance.”
The strategy identifies four key objectives to address work-related psychosocial hazards:
- Increase awareness of psychosocial hazard management and workers’ compensation obligations;
- Support psychological hazard management compliance;
- Enforce compliance in psychosocial hazard management and workers’ compensation duties; and
- Build WorkSafe ACT’s capability and capacity as a responsive regulator for work-related psychosocial hazards and risks.
New South Wales
SafeWork NSW’s Code of Practice for Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work is a comprehensive guide for helping employers manage psychosocial hazards in their workplace. It references key requirements found in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) and in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
The code of practice includes:
- Common psychological hazards at work that employers must identify;
- Identifying who has a duty to manage psychosocial hazards at work;
- What is involved in managing psychosocial hazards at work, including the essential elements in a risk management process;
- How business should respond to a report of psychosocial risk or incident; and
- How a business can support a safe return to work after work-related harm.
SafeWork SA’s Psychological Hazards & Work-related Stress is a comprehensive guide for employers and workers, which outlines common psychological hazards, employer responsibilities, worker responsibilities, and a broad range of risk control measures that should be integrated into all workplaces.