Psychosocial Hazards @ Work – Mind This!

There has been a significant shift in Queensland’s Work Health and Safety requirements over the past 18 months with the introduction of a positive duty in relation to the psychosocial (psychological) safety of people in all workplaces, including yours!

Legislative Updates

The changes to the Act and Regulation and the introduction of a new Code of Practice reflect that workplace injuries and harm can affect people’s physical and psychological health (psychosocial).  While many workplaces have the systems and process in place to respond to injuries, the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 (The Code) requires that the PCBU (the employer) undertakes risk management process to assist in the prevention of psychosocial injuries occurring. This positive duty, to work to prevent injury is clearly set and requires the PCBU to work to identify risks, assess them, consider control measures, then review this process, and that at each stage there must be consultation with workers. It’s a great time to work proactively with the union/s and members.

Recognising that psychological health can be impacted positively and negatively by work and workplaces is an important one. Workcover claims for psychological injuries are on the increase and maintaining healthy workplaces is good for our people, our clients and organisations. There is a clear gendered pattern to psychological claims, more women than men report these injuries.

The Code sets out 14 common psychosocial hazards that may exist, or potentially arise at a workplace from four clearly set out factors of work:

  1. the design or management of work (staffing rosters, workload, supervision etc)
  2. the work environment (location, noise, space etc)
  3. plant at a workplace (equipment used, including technologies) and
  4. workplace interactions and behaviours (between workers and third parties such as clients).

Additionally, as per the Code, consider that there are a range of different ways work can cause injury or cause further harm to people with pre-existing psychological conditions, or past injuries from traumatic events. Where an employer is aware through the employee choosing to let them know, then this should be confidentially managed and considered.

Specific Risks in our Sector

Working in the sexual violence, women’s health and wellbeing and domestic and family violence is important, valued, and purposeful work that can be extremely rewarding.  Yet, given the inherent nature of the work itself, there are clear risks to the psychological health of our people; due to their own lived experiences (which can be a factor in why people are drawn to this work), and through the vicarious trauma of the work. Both these factors need to be considered in the process.

Knowing your people and what they do in their roles is the first step and this process and looking at ways of managing the risks and potential control measures must be done collaboratively.  Consultation is required by the Code through all stage of the process, including the control and review stages. It is essential that you do not use a tick and flick approach. The preventative work must be continuous and ongoing. You need to respond to changes; new hazards, new clients, new team members and as things occur, in addition to scheduled reviews. While establishing the framework now may seem a lot, it will reduce harm, lost productivity and be a great asset to building and maintaining a positive workplace culture.

The use of risk matrixes and the hierarchy of controls to determine the risk, look at what can reasonably be accommodated and when a risk cannot be eliminated, look to substitute, isolate, and reduce the risk through engineering controls. If this won’t reduce the hazard, then administrative controls must be considered (e.g., training, policy etc). The use of personal protection equipment (PPE) should always be the last measure considered.

Support and Resources for Implementation

This can feel overwhelming, please lean on the support available. Work with your administration and leadership teams, Unions and committees to discuss needs. Creating a positive culture in your workplace helps keep people safe and productive at work.  You can find some great resources, including templates, the Code and where to find out more at Work Safe Queensland’s webpage.

Penny Spalding
A/Director WWQ – Basic Rights Queensland