As of 1 April 2023, a new Code of Practice, Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work, will become enforceable in Queensland.
The Code falls under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and provides information for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) on how psychosocial hazards and risks can be controlled or managed.
What is a Code of Practice:
The WHS Act establishes that workers should be given the highest practical level of protection against possible harm to their health from hazards and risks arising from work. In this context, ‘health’ means both physical and psychological health.
A Code of Practice is a practical guide to achieving the requirements under the WHS Act and the relevant WHS Regulation.
While it serves as a guide, under the Act, duty holders must comply with an approved Code of Practice or follow another method that provides an equal or higher standard of health and safety than is outlined in the code. Hence, it is very important to comply with the Code as far as is reasonably practicable.
What is a psychosocial hazard?
A psychosocial hazard is a hazard associated with the management of work, the work environment, or workplace interactions and behaviours that may cause psychological harm. Often, psychosocial hazards can create harm through a worker’s experience of a frequent, prolonged, or severe stress response.
Common psychosocial hazards that arise from, or are related to, work are explored in the Code and may include:
- high and/or low job demands;
- low job control;
- poor support;
- low role clarity;
- poor organisational change management;
- low reward and recognition;
- poor organisational justice;
- poor workplace relationships including interpersonal conflict;
- remote or isolated work;
- poor environmental conditions;
- traumatic events;
- violence and aggression;
- bullying; and
- harassment including sexual harassment.
What does the Code say?
The Code itself includes information about the most common psychosocial hazards, who has duties relating to psychosocial hazards, what is reasonably practicable in managing these hazards, as well as other laws that duty holders should be aware of.
What does the code mean for employers?
The introduction of the Code should remove uncertainty for PCBUs and clarify the obligations to eliminate or minimise risks of psychological hazards.
Since the Code outlines the minimum standard for managing risks to workers’ psychological health by providing practical guidance and giving examples of how to meet these requirements, it also means that employees and regulators can identify with much greater ease if employers are placing workers at an unacceptable risk of psychological harm.
What do I need to do as an employer?
It is imperative that employers regularly seek to identify hazards, assess them, control them, and review the controls to manage risk. This will look different in every workplace and field, and our Workplace Team can assist in implementing the appropriate process for your business.
One of the most important steps that employers can take to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace is to review the Code of Practice and update day-to-day practices, as well as applicable policies and procedures to ensure that all reasonable steps are being taken to remove the risk of employees encountering psychosocial hazards at work.
Importantly, employers open themselves up to risk, regardless of good processes, training or culture, if psychosocial hazards are not being reported. Non-reporting is common in circumstances where workers:
- See the hazard as “part of the job”;
- Believe it is not serious enough to report;
- Think the report will be not handled respectfully or confidentially;
- Feel they will be blamed;
- Believe reporting may expose them to additional harm, discrimination or disadvantage; or
- Do not understand the process for reporting psychosocial hazards.
Creating good reporting processes and fostering a work environment where reporting of hazards is encouraged is a fundamental aspect of eliminating risks in the workplace.
How our Workplace Team can help
Our Workplace Team can assist if you require any advice or have any questions regarding employment or independent contractor relationships.
For further information please contact Danny Clifford, Director of Employment and Workplace Law.