A psychosocial hazard in the workplace is anything that could cause psychological or mental harm in the course of employment, which will often be factors in the management or design of work.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (“OHS Act”) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, and this extends to risks to psychological health (so far as is reasonably practicable to do so). This requirement includes employers providing and maintaining safe systems of work, consulting regularly with employees in regard to health and safety matters, monitoring the conditions of the workplace, and monitoring employee health.
Employees also have obligations under the OHS Act, while at work, to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of others in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer in regard to health and safety matters.
The following is a helpful list of the most common psychosocial hazards in the workplace as identified by Safe Work Australia:
WorkSafe Victoria have identified some early signs of the negative health impacts from exposure to psychosocial hazards in the workplace, and these include:
Failure to manage and mitigate psychosocial hazards in the workplace can have significant effects and can commonly lead to the onset of a psychological injury. The effects are generally most significant to the individual exposed to the hazard/s, and these effects can range from poor job satisfaction and motivation at work to diagnosable mental health injuries or physical injuries (such as hypertension), resulting in the worker needing to take time off work and suffering potential life-long consequences.
However, there are also knock-on effects as a result of the impact on an individual worker, such as reduced morale and motivation within that worker’s team, as well as increased pressure being placed on remaining workers to fill the gap. This in turn can adversely affect the business in terms of reduced productivity and results. As such, it is critical that steps are taken, and taken at an early stage, to reduce the risk of workers being exposed to psychosocial hazards.
Before looking at steps to reduce the risks, there are a number of protective steps that can be established in any workplace to minimise hazards and reduce risks. These factors are:
1) Supportive leadership structures
In which feedback from workers is encouraged and open lines of communication as well as regular opportunities to provide positive and constructive feedback to the worker.
2) Psychological Support
Services being available and made known to workers, and reasonable adjustments to their work being explored to assist workers whilst they access those supports.
3) Team Support
In the form of regular staff catch ups and team bonding exercises as well as increasing one-on-one time between workers and managers.
In order to combat psychosocial risks in the workplace, the following four-step risk assessment should be adopted:
This risk assessment should be a dynamic process, and not just a set and forget approach. When managing these risks, consideration should be given to particular groups of workers who may be at increased risk of harm due to their age, cultural background, language and literacy abilities, as well as those who have experienced a prior work-related injury/illness or who have previously been exposed to a traumatic event.
In the event that a worker is exposed to a psychosocial hazard in the workplace, there needs to be a clear process for investigation of the risk and review of current processes. A clear and appropriate set of complaint handling policies and procedures should also be in place so that issues raised by workers are dealt with quickly and effectively, rather than allowing the issue to linger and the process to drag on. Early intervention increases the scope for better outcomes for employers and employees.
Finally, in the event that a worker is exposed to a psychosocial hazard in the workplace, appropriate supports and policies need to be in place to support that worker to return to work.
The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.