In July 2022, Safe Work Australia released a new Code of Practice on an employer’s duty to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
The types of risks that are identified as being ‘psychosocial’ risk factors include, among others: job demands, low job control, poor organisational change management and inadequate rewards or recognition.
The Code of Practice states that employers must identify and eliminate risks by implementing control measures..
Points from Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice - Managing psychosocial hazards at work
In July 2022, Safe Work Australia released a new Code of Practice on an employer’s duty to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace. The Code of Practice largely follows suit from Safe Work NSW’s publication released in May 2021 (found here) which was the first formal guidance provided to employers regarding their obligations in relation to psychosocial risk factors at work. The updated Code of Practice provides a timely reminder of what employers should be doing to try and avoid psychological risks.
Essentially, the Code of Practice refers to the duty of care that employers have to ensure the psychological health of workers, or any other person an employer is engaged with or directs in their workplace. The duty also requires that employers act “as far as is reasonably practicable” to mitigate psychosocial risks in the workplace.
The types of risks that are identified as being ‘psychosocial’ risk factors include, among others:
1. Job demands: Intense or sustained high mental, physical, or emotional effort required to do the job, unreasonable or excessive time pressures, high individual risk when mistakes occur, shifts that do not allow for adequate sleep recovery, sustained low levels of effort, long idle periods during high workload periods, etc.
2. Low job control:
Worker has limited ability to control how work is performed, limited ability for adaptation, limited ability to adopt efficiencies, tightly scripted or machine/computer paced work, process driven tasks with inability to apply judgement or skills, level of autonomy not matched to workers skills, etc.
3. Poor organisational change management:
Insufficient consultation, consideration of new hazards or performance impacts when planning for and implementing change, insufficient support, information, or training during change, and not communicating key information to workers during periods of change.
4. Inadequate rewards or recognition:
Jobs with low positive feedback or imbalances between effort and recognition, high level of unconstructive negative feedback from managers or customers, low skills development opportunity or underused skills.
The Code of Practice states that employers must identify all reasonably foreseeable psychosocial hazards arising from the work carried out by their business or undertaking. This requires consulting with staff, using surveys and tools, observing work behaviours, reviewing data, looking for trends, and implementing an adequate reporting mechanism and encouraging reporting by staff.
Eliminate risks with control measures
Once psychosocial risks to health and safety are identified by employers’, they should be eliminated if reasonably practicable to do so. If not, the employer is obligated to minimise risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Deciding on what control measures are appropriate requires consideration of matters such as:
(a) the likelihood of the psychosocial hazard or the risk occurring;
(b) the degree of harm that might result from the hazards or the risks;
(c) the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risks;
(d) what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know about the hazards or risks, and about the ways of eliminating or minimising the risks; and
(e) the cost associated with eliminating or minimising the risks, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risks.
Review of control measures
Finally, it is important that employers review the control measures that are implemented to determine their effectiveness over time. This should be done regularly and involve consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
It is now expected by Safe Work Australia, in their Code of Practice, that employers address and manage psychosocial risks in their workplace.
While these psychosocial risks can be wide-ranging and (in some cases) seemingly innocuous, they are considered a serious risk to employee health and safety, and must be mitigated appropriately.
Please get in contact with the team, should you have any questions regarding psychosocial hazards at work.
Blog post written by Partner in Charge (Newcastle), Najeh Marhaba, and Solicitor, Lloyd Carman