17 October 2023

Employers on notice to protect their staff against psychosocial hazards in the workplace

| Claire Fenwicke
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stressed businesswoman with headache in the office

Psychosocial hazards in the workplace can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Photo: File.

Territory law will soon require all employers to protect their staff against potential psychosocial hazards in the workplace under a new code of practice.

The Work Health and Safety (Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice) Approval 2023 will come into effect on 27 November, with businesses urged to educate themselves and their staff now.

Safe Work Australia defines a psychosocial hazard as anything that can cause psychological harm, including job demands, poor support, violence and aggression, bullying, harassment, conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions, and traumatic events or material.

“Psychosocial hazards can create stress … stress itself is not an injury,” the Safe Work Australia website stated.

“But if workers are stressed often, over a long time, or the level of stress is high, it can cause harm.”

The ACT law outlines that if psychosocial hazards are not effectively identified and managed there can be an increased risk of physical and psychological harm.

“Managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards not only protects workers, but it also decreases the disruption caused by incidents, errors, staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity,” according to the website.

“Psychological harm or hazards … include conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep disorders. Physical injuries from psychosocial hazards include musculoskeletal injury, chronic disease, and physical injury following fatigue and error-related workplace incidents.”

Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Mick Gentleman said the changes were in response to a recommendation of the independent national Boland Review to deal directly with how workplace psychosocial hazards must be managed by businesses.

“Psychosocial hazards must be treated with the same seriousness as physical hazards in all Canberra workplaces,” he said.

“Ensuring the psychological safety of every worker in the ACT is critical.”

ACT Ambulance Service (ACTAS), which has already increased its focus on providing psychosocial safety and support, now has 38 peer support workers to help staff manage day-to-day hazards.

ACTAS Education general manager Greg Brown said it was a human right to attend a workplace without the risk of any hazard to your health and urged all Territory employers to consider what they were doing to support their workers’ mental health.

“Every employer – be they government or non-government based – has a responsibility to look after their staff,” he said.

“Every staff member is vital to the operation of their organisation, so therefore anything that an employer can do to eliminate the risk of psychosocial hazards to their employees is important.”

In ACTAS, crews and communication centre call takers experience, on average, two instances of occupational violence per week.

But Mr Brown said the numbers shouldn’t be the focus for any workplace.

“The numbers are irrelevant, behind each number is a name and behind each name is a family,” he said.

“We need to eliminate all these risks in the workplace.”

The ACT Government is looking to expand the peer support program across the public service, as well as continue to develop legislation to implement all the recommendations from the Boland Review.

“We really want to provide safe workplaces for workers across the Territory and it is incumbent on us, as employers, to ensure we can do that,” Mr Gentleman said.

Employers looking to update or provide training on psychosocial hazards in the workplace can contact WorkSafe ACT to find out what educational opportunities are available.

Mr Gentleman encouraged all businesses to make sure they were ready for when the new code of practice came into effect at the end of November.

“General cost is not that expensive for employers for training of their employees … so we look forward to assisting workplaces [in psychosocial] training wherever we can,” he said.

“There’s no time for this [kind of behaviour], we need to make sure that workplaces are safe.”

The ACT Government earlier this year introduced additional changes to work health and safety (WHS) laws, creating a mandatory requirement for businesses to report sexual assault incidents that occur at work to WorkSafe ACT.

There’s a range of penalties facing businesses that fail to comply with work health and safety duties.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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