Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace

October is National Safe Work Month. With this in mind, it is a prime opportunity to reflect and discuss work health and safety matters. Whilst it’s always been important aspect of business and something that needs to be taken seriously, the evaluation process behind determining risk in the workplace is often neglected. We know that recent events have only highlighted the realities of mental exhaustion, depression, and burnout. Consequently, as a result of this Safe Work Australia have published a Code of Practice for managing psychosocial hazards at work. This Code has been updated to reflect the change in Model WHS laws. It’s reassuring that this guide now offers practical tips and tricks for those employers to manage these workplace hazards.

What are psychosocial hazards?

A psychosocial hazard at work occurs when certain characteristics of work and work situations cause a stress response for an employee, which may lead to psychological or physical harm. By default, this is not the intention of workplace, but it is a side effect of the way the task or jobs have inherently been designed, organised, or managed and the consequently the hazard is inherent to the actual task.

Psychosocial hazards can also arise from the equipment used, or from the physical working environment if it evokes a “physiological or stress response.” They may also stem from social factors at work, including workplace relationships and social interactions. Examples of these psychosocial hazards include issues such as bullying and harassment, violence in the workplace, and remote or isolated work. These issues may cause someone to act in a manner that is inconsistent with their normal behaviour.

Categories of psychosocial hazards

There are a wide range of psychosocial hazards such as:

Psychological harm or injuries from psychosocial hazards may contribute to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep disorders. Physical harm or injuries from psychosocial hazards include musculoskeletal injury, chronic disease and physical injury following fatigue-related workplace incidents.

Contributing factors of psychosocial hazards

Some examples of factors that can contribute include:

The impact of psychosocial hazards to Employees?

Psychosocial hazards can have the ability to cause stress. Whether direct or indirect, work-related stress is when a worker recognizes the demands of the role exceed their abilities or resources. Stress can create a physiological and psychological responses. This is where it can be tricky for Employers to manage as they may not know what symptoms the Employee has because of the stress and so therefore cannot manage effectively.

Prolonged stress can cause mental or physical exhaustion and harm. For example, if your Employees are exposed to harm at the workplace, they can experience stress or trauma response at another point of their employment. This adds to the complexity for the Employer to manage.

Other risks to work health and safety of employees may include:

Significance of psychosocial safety in Workplace

One of the largest issues for Employers is absenteeism in the workplace. It’s a large operating factor that cannot always been controlled. Work related stress can represent a large cost for Employee health and safety. The World Health Organization has identified that depression forms a large part of global burden of disease. Mental health and the risk to psychosocial safety is uniformly important as risks to physical health at the workplace.

Work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work when compared to physical injuries. By focusing on the importance of psychosocial safety, you clearly protect Employees, endeavour to reduce absenteeism, increase retention and meet your health and safety obligations.

How to manage psychosocial hazards at work

It would be useful to have a framework to help manage this, it is suggested that Employers:

Health and safety duties

Each State and Territory has their own workplace health and safety legislation. Irrespective of this, each law does stipulate that Employers have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practice, that the health and safety of Employees and visitors to the business by identifying hazards and eliminating or minimising any risk. By definition, the word health includes both physical and psychological health and hazards are anything that can cause harm, and risk means the perception of something occurring or not occurring.

Work Health and Safety

During October each year, Safe Work Australia asks Businesses, Employers, and Employees across the country to commit to building safe and healthy workplaces. This year the theme is Know Safety, Work Safely. 

Safe Work Australia has created several resources that you can access to support you in this area.  You can access the resources provided by Safe Work to identify psychosocial hazards and manage risks at the workplace. These resources can aid Employees in understanding practical steps that they need to take too to assist in this area.

Consequently, it needs to be noted that the information contained in this post is general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a qualified work health and safety professional for specific advice regarding WHS laws or risk management.

If you’d like an introduction to a WHS specialist please let us know, or if you’d like any assistance in this matter, please drop us a line [email protected]


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