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Psychosocial Risk - What is changing?

Updated: Jun 2

Why is there all this talk on Linked In and other platforms about the impending changes to the WHS regulations for managing the risk of psychosocial hazards?

What is all the chatter around Psychosocial Risk?

Hasn’t there always been an obligation placed on businesses and organisations to manage both health and safety risk anyway?

Why is there a need for change?

The WHS regulations have changed to provide greater clarity for businesses to manage psychosocial risks

It is simple really.

This shouldn’t be a new concept for any business; however businesses just haven’t been able to necessarily approach psychological health and safety with effective ways to prevent or reduce psychosocial risk in the workplace. It turns out this has been quite difficult to achieve and the guidance not necessarily simple to follow.

If you reflect over the past decade, we can see by looking at the stats released from Workcover Qld that physical injuries are trending down, however psychological issues are trending up. Reports such as the Marie Boland review, helped shine a spotlight on the gaps for effective management and implementation of measures.

With this change in trend, are businesses effectively managing these risks?

The changes in regulation isn’t meant to make life more difficult for businesses, instead it is to step out the ways in which businesses can make a proactive and positive step to improving the psychological health of their workers.

Mental Health Statistics

Healthy, happy workers:-

· are productive workers.

· have improved relationships with family members and friends.

· have less absenteeism.

· are less likely to leave the business

Absenteeism statistics

Helping workers to maintain good psychological health makes good business sense and there a lot of benefits for both worker and the business!

One in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy -
Beyond Blue

The change in regulation shall put the spotlight on psychological safety

The proposed change, shifts information on how to prevent harm to psychological health from being:-

· guidance (you should do it this way),

· to Regulation… MUST do it this way.

In Qld, a Code of Practice is being implemented on the 1st April, 2023. This will act as the go-to guide to explain how a business can meet its WHS obligations.

I wouldn’t let the word ‘MUST’ distract businesses from the essential goal of why the regulation is changing. The important part of the messaging is that this is designed to assist and is a time to embrace the help!

Let’s talk about psychosocial hazards. They are anything at work that may cause psychological harm.

These hazards can come from or relate to:-

  • the way work is designed and managed,

  • the working environment

  • plant at a workplace

  • workplace behaviours or interactions (e.g. bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence)

Psychosocial hazards may exist in your workplace and be unavoidable. (e.g. working in a health care settings whereby you encounter violent, aggressive or abusive patients).

What you need to know is what are the things you should reasonably know about the risks, what can you do to reduce the risk? Or preferably eliminate the risk altogether?

A psychosocial risk is a risk to the health or safety of a worker or other person from a psychosocial hazard.

If these risks are not well managed, it would be reasonable to think that a worker may experience a psychological injury.

Let’s discuss hazards here, so you can see what I am referring to.

Bullying (Workplace Behaviours)

I had a friend who worked in an office environment, whereby a team leader would poke fun at my friend about her spiritual beliefs. The co-worker often referred to her as a ‘witch’ amongst peers. My friend felt uncomfortable with this kind of banter, and did address this directly with her work colleague, however this continued relentlessly, and other work colleagues began to join in on the ‘sledging’ and in their minds, it simply became an office joke, which continued and co-workers regularly taunted her as being a ‘witch’ and ‘riding on her broom’.

Understandably it all became too much for my friend, who left the company informing the CEO of the ‘bullying’ culture that existed within the company.

How Mentally Healthy is your workplace really?

Clearly it was not a mentally healthy workplace and bullying behaviours went on unchecked. In this instance, my friend took matters into her own hands, leaving the company as recognised, remaining in this toxic culture, would not be good for her mental health.

It was repeated, unreasonable behaviour and was a humiliating experience for her.

While we often think about bullying as an individual or interpersonal issue, research commissioned by Beyond Blue shows that broader environmental factors - such as poor organisational culture and a lack of leadership - are in fact the main drivers.

Magee, C., et al. (2014) Workplace Bullying in Australia

Low Job demands (Work Design)

Let’s say that you have a business that has work such as a production line in a food manufacturing company. The role of your worker may be to provide placement of a food item on the production assembly line. The design of that role may have impact to both physical and mental health, so you need to look at the risks and review the work design.

How would you change it?

Measures may include, rotation of tasks, cross training in other areas of production, anti-fatigue mats provided, opportunity for workers to partake in other roles such as a Health and Safety rep, First Aid Officer, allowing suitable break/rest periods, allowing workers to chat whilst working on the production line etc.

These are some of the ‘measures’ to reduce both physical and psychosocial risks. In this instance, the measures help to reduce the risk, however, does not eliminate the risks altogether.

It isn’t overly hard to determine the risks, simply conduct a risk assessment and work out ways that you can better manage. Ask your workers! They often have the best solutions. There are wonderful risk assessment tools available with Worksafe Qld and People at Work.

Would you say that your work environment is a psychologically safe one?

Can workers speak out safely?

What is the workplace culture like at your workplace?

High Job Demand (Work Design)

Another example of a psychosocial hazard, which may impact on a person’s psychological health is high job demand. I worked in the finance industry when I was younger and the company was about to embark on significant transformational change. It was enormous impact to both clients and workers with several branches closing its doors. Two young women led the transformation project.

Frequently they worked very long days, some days finishing work at 1am, only to be back in the office by 7 or 8am the next day. The team on the project were also expected to work long days. I was in the latter stages of my first pregnancy and working until 9pm or 10pm on some occasions.

The issue with this was not the fact that it may be a one-off requirement for the job or demands of the project. There will always be moments whereby there are extra requirements or work demands. Especially in today’s modern workplace. It is about sustaining this over a long period of time and my concern was, that although the two young leaders achieved great success for the business, it presented significant risk for them personally and also set a precedence.

Imagine what this means for the next person who enters a similar role, to achieve the same tasks, within the defines of an 8-hour day? It is nigh impossible.

Woman looking distressed at laptop
It is important for businesses to understand both the physical and psychosocial risks that impact workers

Did the business know that this was occurring? Yes it did. Were the risks for both physical and psychosocial risk identified? No it wasn’t – there did not appear to be measures in place to manage fatigue, burnout, stress, working in isolation (e.g. 1am finish times and working alone in an office).

What kind of physical affect did this also have on them?

The daily long hours of work became an expectation to meet the project timelines for an unreasonable period of time. The psychosocial hazards were evident, yet the risks were not well managed.

The focus should be on preventing harm

The changes in the regulation essentially means that 'officers' of a business (PCBU), are not able to turn a blind eye to what is happening within a business. We see evidence that psychological injury claims are on the rise, so the focus should be on:-

  • Preventing harm

  • Intervening early

  • Supporting recovery

  • Promoting health

The key message here is to get started.

Self-care strategy books

Australian workers suffered a higher level of work burnout than other countries surveyed. (sourced from the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index). The trend index report, published on Sept. 22, showed that 62% of Australian workers reported being burned out at work, compared to the global average of 48% of employees.

It's time to make change. There are a number of great tools available to support you. Businesses shall be required to undertake a risk assessment approach. Begin with a free and validated Australian Psychosocial Risk Assessment Survey.

The effects of burnout are real

Businesses receive an average return on investment of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies, making investing in mental health a win-win situation for employers and employees - Beyond Blue

At F.A.S.T. First Aid Training, we believe communication with your team is vital and we are here to help you through these changes. Reach out today to explore the range of Mental Health and Well-being programs we have on offer and book a course today.

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