Psychosocial hazards: what does it mean and how to manage them

It is becoming increasing evident that providing a workplace environment that is psychosocially safe is paramount to employee’s health and well being, career longevity and job satisfaction.

In light of our recent blog post How to effectively manage workers compensation claims we thought it was important to discuss psychosocial hazards in the workplace, as these can lead to workers compensation claims. As employers we need to be familiar with Work Heath and Safety (WHS) laws in Australia, which as we know, are designed to reduce risks and harm in the workplace. Until recently these laws have mostly been focused on reducing physical harm, however over recent years Safe Work Australia has seen an alarming rise in psychological injury claims, where employees experience significantly long term mental ill health because of their workplace. Safe Work Australia have published a Codes of Practice, which has been implemented across Australian states and territories, which focuses on reducing psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

As an employer it is important a holistic approach to employee safety underpins how the organisation operates and informs WHS policies and procedures. In this blog post we consider what psychosocial hazard means and explore ways to reduce psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

What does psychosocial hazard mean?

Firstly, psychosocial considers the social aspect of an environment and how it impacts the psychological and physical well being of a person. In terms of psychosocial hazards in the workplace this can be defined as elements of work that impact on a person’s mental and emotional well being, such as stress. There are countless psychosocial hazards, however some widespread psychosocial hazards at work can include high/low job demands, lack of support, traumatic events and material, bullying, harassment, conflict in the workplace and poor a workplace environment.

While one off psychosocial hazards do occur, often the hazard causes harm due to a build up over time.  It is also important to recognise the interrelated nature of psychosocial hazards. Whereby one psychosocial hazard may not outright cause harm, instead it is several hazards that cause harm. For example, a combination of a high workload, bullying and consistent verbal abuse from customers could cause an employee psychosocial harm. 

Managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace

Under WHS Regulations an employer has a duty of care to its employees to reduce and mange psychosocial risk in the workplace. Where it is reasonably foreseeable and practical an employer must:

  • Identify, assess, reduce and eliminate psychosocial hazards
  • Implement control measures to manage psychosocial hazards
  • Review, revise, and control psychosocial hazards

A robust risk assessment should be undertaken to identify, assess and address psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Below are some actions that can be taken to help manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace:

  • Ensure employees are qualified, experienced, and suitable for the role
  • Make certain that employees have sufficient breaks, shift hours are appropriate and there is adequate time for recovery between periods of work
  • Adequate support, leadership, guidance and oversight is provided to employees
  • Job demand and tasks are balanced – not too high or low
  • Work environment should be adequate e.g. consider noise level, light, temperature
  • Reduce customer aggression and distress where possible
  • Create a safe work environment where employees feel comfortable raising concerns, risks and issues
  • Provide role clarity – be clear and concise when outlining responsibility, expectations and duties
  • Manage workplace change effectively
  • Recognise and reward good employee work, progression and development
  • Where possible reduce employee’s exposure to traumatic events and material and when this isn’t possible provide adequate debriefing, supervision and support for employees
  • Manage issues of bully and harassment quickly and effectively

Psychosocial hazards in the workplace need to be taken seriously and managed accordingly. Employers should take a proactive approach to managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace and not waiting until an incident happens or employees become burnt out, stressed, submit workers compensation claims or resign. Failure to meet key components of WHS Codes of Practice can lead to prosecution, with potentially serious consequences.

If you need help assessing and addressing the psychosocial safety of your workplace HRTAS are here to support you. Contact Eve on 0401 785 529 or to find out how she can help!

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