Duty To Manage Psychological Risks In The Workplace

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Published by Preston Law on 14/02/2023

From 1 April 2023, huge changes are being implemented to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). These changes will impose an obligation on a person conducting business or undertaking a business (‘duty holder’) to manage psychological risks in the workplace.

What is a psychological risk?

A psychological risk is a very broad term, which can be confusing, however, it is defined as:

a risk to the health or safety of a worker or other person from a 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; and
  • may cause psychological harm, whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm.

So what is a psychological hazard?

Examples of psychological hazards may include, but are not limited to:

  • Exposure to traumatic events, i.e. reading, hearing or seeing accounts of abuse or neglect;
  • Poor work design, for example highly repetitive tasks or segregation;
  • Violence, aggression or bullying from other workers, customers, or members of the public;
  • Bullying and harassment;
  • Discrimination due to personal characteristics such as age, race, religion and sexual harassment;
  • Lack of role clarity making conflicting or changing responsibilities and expectations;
  • Poor job demands such as long periods of high or low levels of physical, emotional or mental effort;
  • Unreasonable targets or timeframes; or
  • Poor organisational change management.

Ok, what does that mean for the employer?

Duty holders (being a person conducting business or undertaking a business) have always had a duty to ensure the safety and health of their employees and contractors. These new changes do not alter that duty but extends it to now encapsulate psychosocial risks.

These changes recognise the need to consider psychological risks, and manage those risks through risk management, which ought to be focused on the elimination of the risk or if elimination of the risk is not practicable minimisation of the risk as much as possible.

  • Duty holders can do this by:
    • Reviewing policies and procedures about psychological risks and the reporting of psychological risks;
    • Determining what control measures might need to be implemented to manage psychological risks such as environmental conditions, job demands, duration, frequency or exposure to those hazards, workplace interactions, and increasing information, training and supervision provided to workers.

Duty holders must be able to demonstrate that they have complied with these new regulations by showing that they have considered, and continue to consider things such as:

  • That deadlines set within the workplace are reasonable and understood;
  • That any tools, equipment, and support provided to perform the role or meet deadlines are adequate and accessible;
  • That menial tasks outside of the job description are not and do not become a regular feature of work;
  • Any work is being distributed evenly, reflects the capacity of that employee;
  • That employees are being observed and provided with adequate support; and
  • That all managers, supervisors, team members, and other relevant employees have been provided with the appropriate or sufficient training to help them perform their respective duties (including managing others) safely and to identify psychological risks within the workplace.

These changes to not come into place until 1 April 2023, providing duty holders with ample opportunity to begin to implement changes now. We recommend reviewing your policies, procedures and systems to ensure that when 1 April 2023 comes around, you are able to manage psychological risks within the workplace effectively.

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