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Workplace Health and Safety Changes

Rob explores Safe Work Australia’s updated model on psychosocial hazards. If you are a disability service provider that employs people - these apply to you.

By Rob Woolley

Updated 15 Apr 202427 Jun 2023

 Across Australia, there have been some big regulation changes in relation to psychosocial safety in the workplace. If you are a disability service provider that employs people (and most do), these changes affect you and your organisation.

Last year, Safe Work Australia released the updated model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, which include regulations specific to psychosocial hazards. This included a model Code of Practice for Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work. For those not following cross-jurisdictional WHS arrangements, the new model regulation is essentially the foundation for how most State and Territories make their own laws to manage WHS. Although WHS is regulated at a State and Territory level, the model regulations enable increased consistency across the country. State and Territories are now updating their laws accordingly.

The changes expand the obligations of workplaces to put more emphasis on psychosocial hazards in their WHS responsibilities, reflecting the growing body of evidence of the impact of psychosocial and psychological risks that people face in the workplace.

If WHS regulatory requirements don’t strike you as exciting, then consider that your WHS obligations are among the most important obligations you have as a business. There are also commercial benefits to getting more proactive about this area: if you get ahead of the curve with identifying and managing psychosocial hazards, you can reasonably expect lower staff turnover, fewer performance problems, an improved culture and reduced Workers Compensation claims. But the biggest incentive of all is the moral one - everybody deserves to come home from work without being psychologically harmed.

What are psychosocial hazards?

A psychosocial hazard is a hazard that creates stress, when a worker perceives the demands of their work as more than they can cope with. Stress itself isn’t a problem - it becomes a problem when that stress is frequent, prolonged or severe enough to create psychological and physical harm.

Psychosocial hazards can encompass a very wide range of risks and situations. The model Code of Practice is a great place to start to get your head around the changes and how to effectively manage the risks. The model code highlights 14 common psychosocial hazards:

  • Job demands
  • Low job control
  • Poor support
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Poor organisational change management
  • Inadequate reward or recognition
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Traumatic events or material
  • Remote or isolated work
  • Poor physical environment
  • Violence and aggression
  • Bullying
  • Harassment including sexual harassment
  • Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions


What’s in the amendment?

This amendment highlights the importance of psychosocial risks and the need for measures to actively address these hazards. The amendment gives a framework for the duties of a workplace, covering:

  • identifying reasonably foreseeable hazards that could create psychosocial risks
  • eliminating risks, where it’s reasonably practicable
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, minimising the risks so far as is reasonably practicable
  • maintaining, implementing and controlling measures so they remain effective
  • reviewing, and if necessary revising, control measures so as to maintain (so far as is reasonably practicable) a work environment that is without risks to health and safety

Who do these changes apply to?

All States and Territories are moving to put more emphasis on psychosocial hazards, in line with the model regulations and Code of Practice. Further details about the exact resources for each State and Territory can be found at the bottom of this article.

These changes affect everyone in a workplace: employees, contractors, volunteers, temporary staff, labour-hire and agency workers, apprentices, trainees, work experience students - everyone.

What should providers do?

You should be discussing these updated obligations and guidance at the highest level of your organisation. We also recommend talking to your Workers Compensation insurer / broker. This should be one of the key pieces of WHS work you do this year. Make sure you get this on your Risk Register. There also might be more operational changes, like educating everyone in your organisation about psychosocial hazards and encouraging them to raise and report concerns and risks (however small they might seem).

Where else can I go for further information?

Visit your WHS regulator for guidance in your jurisdiction:

These changes might seem like a big chunk of work (and they should be, if you do it right), but they haven’t come around overnight. This is a result of many years of research and advocacy to acknowledge that WHS risks aren’t only physical, and that the impact of psychosocial hazards can be incredibly damaging to people and their families.

Authors

Rob Woolley

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