In June 2022, Safe Work Australia published an updated model of WHS laws with the amendments coming into effect in the Commonwealth jurisdiction on April 1 2023. The new code of practice brings to the forefront the employers’ obligation to mitigate psychosocial hazards in their workplace, from stress, aggression and bullying, with the same level of rigour as they address risks to physical health.

What are psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards in the workplace are aspects of work, tasks and situations that may cause a stress response which in turn can lead to an impact on an employee’s health and wellbeing resulting in psychological or physical harm. These hazards can arise from:

  • the way the tasks or job are designed, organised, managed and supervised
  • tasks or jobs where there are inherent psychosocial hazards and risks
  • the equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties in physically hazardous environments, and
  • social factors at work, workplace relationships and social interactions.

Risk assessment

While a psychosocial hazard is something that could potentially cause harm, a psychosocial risk is the degree of likelihood that harm will occur. Psychosocial risk assessment involves understanding the nature of the harm a psychosocial hazard could cause, how serious the harm could be, and the likelihood of it happening.

Stress itself is not an injury, but frequent, prolonged or severe stress can cause psychological and physical harm, exceeding an employee’s ability to cope.

Examples of psychosocial hazards

A psychosocial hazard is anything that could cause psychological harm and common psychosocial hazards in the workplace can 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

What PCBU’S (person conducting a business or undertaking) need to do?

The Code of Practice states that: “A PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, workers and other persons are not exposed to risks to their psychological or physical health and safety. A PCBU must eliminate psychosocial risks in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise these risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Officers, such as company directors, have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the PCBU complies with its duties under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations.”

What next?

WHA has been working hard to update Quescreen, our online health screening tool, incorporating more tailored question groups to evaluate psychosocial hazards, making it easier for organisations to be proactive in prioritising workforce health and minimising risk.

Start the conversation today to find out how Quescreen can offer a proactive solution for assessing your staff’s psychosocial health risks.

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