In July 2022, Safe Work Australia released a new Code of Practice concerning the management of psychosocial hazards at work. This document is very similar to a Code released by SafeWork NSW in May 2021. These Codes require employers to take active steps to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
Holman Webb expects that these Codes may well cause significant tension within the workplace, as they not only consider equipment and processes for doing work, they also relate to the way that staff and managers interact, and how abstract concepts such as workload and communications are managed in a way that protects workers.
The Codes are not only important for guiding employers on practices relating to the maintenance of safe workplaces – it is likely that these two Codes will form the framework through which psychological injury claims will be made and judged. As such, it is necessary for employers to have a strong understanding of these Codes.
This article will answer:
- What are psychosocial hazards?
- What are the requirements on employers?
- What can be done to reduce these exposures?
What are psychosocial hazards?
A psychosocial hazard is an aspect of work that may cause a stress response and lead to psychological or physical harm. This covers many areas.
A psychosocial hazard can arise from the way that tasks, or a job is designed, organised, managed and/or supervised. Certain tasks and jobs can be considered to have inherent psychosocial hazards, or risks involved in them.
This expands further to the equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties in physically hazardous environments. It also includes general social factors at work, workplace relationships and social interactions.
A list of common examples includes:
- Role overload and underload;
- Exposure to traumatic events;
- Lack of role definition;
- Lack of control;
- Poor management support;
- Harassment (including sexual harassment);
- Inadequate reward and recognition;
- Hazardous working environments;
- Remote or isolated work; and
- Poor procedure and poor organisational change.
Duty of Care
The Code of Practice says that everyone involved in the workplace has a duty to manage psychosocial hazards. There are several categories of people who have responsibilities.
Employees must take reasonable care for their own work, health and safety as well as for ensuring that their actions do not harm others. They must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions, policies and procedures. If they do not believe the instructions, policies or procedures are adequate, employees must provide feedback to their supervisor or Health and Safety Representative (‘HSR’).
The main duty to avoid the risk of psychosocial hazards rests with the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (‘PCBU’). A PCBU is the person (or entity) in control of the workplace, which is usually the employer.
The Code requires that the PCBU ensures all psychosocial hazards at work are effectively managed by eliminating them, where possible. If elimination of certain psychosocial hazards is not possible, the PCBU must minimise these risks as far as is reasonably practicable.
Some concrete examples of what this could entail are:
- Creating safe systems of work;
- Maintaining a safe working environment;
- Ensuring the safe use, handling, and storage of plant, structures and substances;
- Providing adequate access to welfare facilities at work;
- Providing necessary information, training, instruction or supervision of workers; and
- Ensuring the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored to ensure any risks remain adequately controlled.
The PCBU must consult with its workers about these matters. PCBUs must facilitate the election of an HSR in the workplace.
A PCBU cannot delegate or transfer its duties to another person. Health and safety duties cannot be contracted out of. However, this does not prohibit consultation and cooperation with other PCBUs in relation to matters that will assist in fulfilling their duties.
The HSR must also be trained by the PCBU to deal with psychosocial hazards (they should undertake regular, relevant training). HSRs must talk to the workers they represent about any psychosocial hazards and work-related risks, and monitor actions taken to address concerns.
HSRs must raise concerns about psychosocial hazards and risks in meetings with the PCBU, and provide feedback to the affected workers, whilst protecting privacy and confidentiality where required.
Officers of PCBUs
Officers of a PCBU must proactively ensure that the PCBU is exercising due diligence, and that the PCBU is complying with the WHS Act. This involves:
- Understanding their WHS legal duties;
- Understanding the nature of these risks;
- Staying up to date on WHS matters including psychosocial hazards; and
- Allocating the financial and human resources to develop systematic health and safety management.
- Managing Psychosocial Hazards
- Responding to reports and incidents
- Safe Return to Work
If you have a query relating to any of the information in this article, or would like to speak with Workplace Relations Partner Nick Maley with regard to how these changes are set to impact you and your organisation – please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.