Managing Pyschosocial Hazards At Work – Worksafe Code of Practice
Psychosocial hazards can cause psychological and physical harm. On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work. Managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards not only protects workers, it also decreases the disruption associated with staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.
Psychosocial hazards at work
Psychosocial hazards are hazards that: – arise from or in relation to: o the design or management of work o the working environment o plant1 at a workplace, or o workplace interactions or behaviours; and – may cause psychological and physical harm. Psychosocial hazards and the appropriate control measures may vary between workplaces and between groups of workers, depending on the work environment, organisational context and the nature of work.
How do psychosocial hazards cause harm?
Psychosocial hazards can create stress. Stress is the body’s reaction when a worker perceives the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Stress creates a physiological and psychological response in the body by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, raising the heart rate and blood pressure, boosting glucose levels in the bloodstream and diverting energy from the immune system to other areas of the body. Stress itself is not an injury but if it becomes frequent, prolonged or severe it can cause psychological and physical harm. Some hazards cause stress when a worker is exposed to the risk of that hazard occurring as well as when they are directly exposed to the hazard itself. For example, workers exposed to workplace violence are likely to experience stress if they perceive that the risk has not been controlled, even if the violence does not occur again. In this situation, despite the hazard rarely occurring, the stress itself may be prolonged.
This Code of Practice on managing psychosocial hazards at work is an approved code of practice under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act).
An approved code of practice provides practical guidance on how to achieve the standards of work health and safety required under the WHS Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations (the WHS Regulations), and effective ways to identify and manage risks. A code of practice can assist anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code of practice.
Following an approved code of practice will assist the duty holder to achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act and WHS Regulations, in relation to the subject matter of the code of practice. Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and may not cover all relevant hazards or risks.
The health and safety duties require duty holders to consider all risks associated with work, not only those for which regulations and codes of practice exist.
Codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk, risk assessment or risk control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code of practice relates. For further information see the Interpretive Guideline: The meaning of ‘reasonably practicable’.
Compliance with the WHS Act and WHS Regulations may be achieved by following another method if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than the code. An inspector may refer to an approved code of practice when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice.
Scope and application
This Code is intended to be read by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). It provides practical guidance to PCBUs on how to manage psychosocial health and safety risks at work. This Code may be a useful reference for other persons interested in the duties under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. This Code applies to the performance of work and to all workplaces covered by the WHS Act.
Managing psychosocial risks
The new model WHS Regulations about psychosocial hazard and risk provide useful guidance about the steps PCBUs need to take in considering this risk, and considerations that are relevant when determining appropriate control measures.
The new model WHS Regulations define psychosocial hazard broadly to include any hazard that:
- arises from, or relates to the design or management of work, a work environment, plant at a workplace or workplace interactions or behaviours.
- may cause psychological harm (whether or not it may also cause physical harm).
Psychosocial risk is defined as any risk to the health or safety of a worker or other person arising from a psychosocial hazard.
Notably, the model provisions cast a broad net and will require consideration of not only the physical work environment but also:
- how and when work is undertaken – this could impact job design, workloads, modes in which teams interact.
- workplace behaviours – some behaviour giving rise to particular hazards and risks will be readily apparent, but there will be some individuals or parts of the business where a deeper analysis will be required to identify behaviours (and practices) presenting psychosocial risk.
- instruction, training and supervision – ensuring workers are provided with the necessary information and skills to address issues or raise concerns, and ensuring managers can appropriately monitor their teams for psychosocial hazards and risks and respond to issues raised.
As with the application of the risk management process for any other hazard, control measures are to be determined by reference to all relevant matters, including:
- the duration, frequency and severity of the exposure.
- how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine.
- work designs and systems, including job demands and tasks and how work is managed, organised and supported.
- design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace and any accommodation provided by the PCBU.
- plant, substances and structures at the workplace.
- workplace interactions or behaviours.
- information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.