Are you ready for the new WHS obligations relating to psychosocial hazards in your workplace?
Worker’s mental health has been in the spotlight for a long time, not only in terms of good leadership, organisational culture and HR management, but also relevant to Workcover claims, lost productivity and turnover. Now, the management of employee mental health and wellbeing is legislated.
From April 2023 in Queensland – and since October 2022 in NSW – respective Work Health and Safety legislation imposes a positive duty on PCBU’s (Persons Conducting Business Undertaking) to to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace.
Model WHS laws published by Safe Work Australia act as a framework for all the states and territories to adopt and provide consistency. See the Code of practice here. As the Code importantly states,
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.
So what does this mean for you as an employer?
It means that you can no longer ignore hazards in the workplace that may affect your employee’s mental health and wellbeing. And, you must (note the word, must) take positive duty to identify and manage risks. Just like physical hazards, a risk assessment must be undertaken and control measures applied. There’s a handy risk register template in the Code of Practice.
Of course, just like existing WHS legislation, the concept of what’s “reasonably practical” is applicable. There’s no definitive answer to this, suffice to say that it very much depends on the risk assessment, job profile, industry and other factors. See what Safe Work Australia say about it here. For example, a council ranger dealing with aggressive customers would be at greater risk of assault and threats from the public than an office worker.
One of the ways (and by no means the “be all and end all”) of risk treatment lies in effective training of your staff to deal with difficult customers, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. The code makes specific mention of this type of training (pg. 52).
Managing aggressive and difficult subjects (MADS), effective negotiation and conflict resolution are specific learnt skills and can provide employees with the effective communication tools to keep themselves safe at work. Being able to communicate and follow tried and tested de-escalation strategies can mean the difference between being injured physically or staying safe, but also subjected to psychological abuse.
The same communication strategies apply to internal conflict resolution within the workplace. Doing better in this space can lead to less issues with bullying and harassment and also go towards protecting the wellbeing of staff.
Of course, these are only a few ways to address your requirements under the new Code of Practice and legislation. The key point is to be proactive, assess the risk and do something, not put your head in the sand.
The Professional Investigators College of Australia (PICA) has a range of training and development options to assist in minimising risk psychologically, including:
- Managing Aggressive and Difficult Subjects (MADS) Course
- Conflict resolution in the workplace
- Bullying and sexual harassment
- Workplace Investigation Fundamentals
- Risk Management Fundamentals