What HR needs to know about the new psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice


As part of a new Code of Practice, employers will have a stronger obligation to manage employees’ psychosocial safety at work.

Australian laws require employers to do everything they reasonably can to prevent harm arising from work. Supporting these laws are Codes of Practice which give guidance on how specific risks can be managed. Until recently, and in most States and Territories, this guidance has been limited to the physical risks of harm at work, such as working in confined spaces or managing electrical risks. 

Effective from 1 April 2023, a new Code of Practice on managing ‘psychosocial hazards’ has been implemented across Australia. The Code has been published by Safe Work Australia, and the states and territories will likely implement it in each of their jurisdictions over the coming months.  

‘Psychosocial hazards’ refer to aspects of work design, the work itself and the interactions between employees which can impact their mental health and emotional wellbeing.  

Put another way, psychosocial hazards are the things at work which create stress and reduce our abilities to cope. Under stress, we release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Over a sustained period, this will degrade our immune systems, leading to physical and mental illnesses arising or being exacerbated.  

What’s in the Code? 

The Code should be closely read by both HR and those with WHS responsibilities since it gives detailed advice on how employers can design work and provide interventions and support to reduce and manage work stress. 

The Code is detailed and written technically and with reference to core legal obligations under safety laws. Helpfully, it identifies the separate components of work which contribute to stress. These include: 

  • High job demands/low job control  
  • Poor organisational change management 
  • Inadequate reward and recognition 
  • Traumatic events or material 
  • Remote or isolated work  
  • Harassment/bullying. 

The Code notes that some workers may be at higher risk due to age, literacy or their previous exposure.

“Psychosocial hazards refer to aspects of work design, the work itself and the interactions between employees which can impact their mental health and emotional wellbeing.”

Preventative measures

Key to an improved and systematic approach to managing stress and its adverse impacts is for HR to understand the lived experience and concerns of the workforce.  

Too often, a reactive or intervention-based approach is taken, which is usually too late when those impacted are already burned out or actively looking for a new job. That approach is also reliant on people raising what can be the most uncomfortable topics – workplace culture, job demands and unspoken expectations in a workplace. These important topics are usually left unsaid.  

However, another approach is to utilise the government’s ‘People at Work’ tool. This survey tool has been designed to assist employers to meet their safety obligations and aligns with the new Code of Practice.  

After employees are surveyed (anonymously), a report is then generated and sent to the contact who initiated the survey. Surveys can be initiated periodically as a way of checking in with how implemented measures are working as intended. 

Stepping outside of the detailed guidance of the Code, many employers meet their legal safety obligations by implementing these steps: 

  • Promoting wellbeing and good mental health, so stigma is reduced and employees feel supported to raise issues of concern or disclose mental illness concerns. 
  • Providing an employee assistance program (EAP), so that those who may not be able to freely disclose mental health concerns can still be supported to get assistance. 
  • Encouraging managers and supervisors to use EAP if team members are symptomatic or there are concerns about someone acting more withdrawn or ‘flatter’ than usual. 
  • Providing support, guidance and proactive resolutions in the event that issues are raised or observed in relation to workload, isolation or interpersonal conflict. 

Safety regulators are increasingly willing to investigate the root causes of safety incidents and fatalities when there are allegations or concerns about stress, worker isolation or interpersonal conflict.   

Extent of compliance 

In the event of a serious incident (e.g a suicide which may have arisen from work stress), safety regulators will assess the extent of compliance by an employer against the Code. 

If an employer has implemented key aspects of the Code, then that will be a very good demonstration that it has met its safety obligations owed to employees. In extreme cases, failure to implement the guidance provided by the Code may result in a prosecution under safety laws, with the potential for very large fines and potentially imprisonment for senior staff. 

These new developments and resources make employee expectations of psychologically safe workplaces a concrete reality. This is a key compliance risk and responsibility for HR to manage in 2023.

Will Snow is an Employment and Safety Partner at Finlaysons.


Want to learn more about managing workplace risks to psychological health? Sign up for AHRI’s webinar on 3rd May.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phill
Phill
10 months ago

That’s great to ensure management or senior staff to look out for their employees safety and mentality but this new protocol puts more responsibility and stress onto management or senior staff giving them heightened constant anxiety that if something happens to one of their employees safety or other issues that they will be held responsible with penalties of jail time. There is so much focus on the lower paid staff with pay rises and other things (as mentioned in this article) but what about management and other higher paid staff. What is this concept the higher paid you are the… Read more »

Angela Campbell
Angela Campbell
7 months ago

Hi, I’m currently doing a research project on how HR functions are impacted by psychological hazards and some best practice strategies to minimize psychological hazards. What are the current best practice strategies around intergenerational fairness regarding training and development in the workplace? Has the “Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work code of practice 2022” had an impact on how training and development is managed in the workplace?

Desmons Sherlock
Desmons Sherlock
6 months ago

Hi I just stumbled upon your business and thought this looks interesting. I have been working on a solution that could be used for this especially minor psychosocial hazards, before they can escalate or snowball. It is called Spatz.AI.com and it is an AI-powered app and platform to help monitor, moderate and resolve minor spats in teams. I am looking for some interested parties to help me complete a pilot and get the concept off the ground. There is a demo video on the homepage for how it works Or could you point me in the right direction for such… Read more »

More on HRM

What HR needs to know about the new psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice


As part of a new Code of Practice, employers will have a stronger obligation to manage employees’ psychosocial safety at work.

Australian laws require employers to do everything they reasonably can to prevent harm arising from work. Supporting these laws are Codes of Practice which give guidance on how specific risks can be managed. Until recently, and in most States and Territories, this guidance has been limited to the physical risks of harm at work, such as working in confined spaces or managing electrical risks. 

Effective from 1 April 2023, a new Code of Practice on managing ‘psychosocial hazards’ has been implemented across Australia. The Code has been published by Safe Work Australia, and the states and territories will likely implement it in each of their jurisdictions over the coming months.  

‘Psychosocial hazards’ refer to aspects of work design, the work itself and the interactions between employees which can impact their mental health and emotional wellbeing.  

Put another way, psychosocial hazards are the things at work which create stress and reduce our abilities to cope. Under stress, we release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Over a sustained period, this will degrade our immune systems, leading to physical and mental illnesses arising or being exacerbated.  

What’s in the Code? 

The Code should be closely read by both HR and those with WHS responsibilities since it gives detailed advice on how employers can design work and provide interventions and support to reduce and manage work stress. 

The Code is detailed and written technically and with reference to core legal obligations under safety laws. Helpfully, it identifies the separate components of work which contribute to stress. These include: 

  • High job demands/low job control  
  • Poor organisational change management 
  • Inadequate reward and recognition 
  • Traumatic events or material 
  • Remote or isolated work  
  • Harassment/bullying. 

The Code notes that some workers may be at higher risk due to age, literacy or their previous exposure.

“Psychosocial hazards refer to aspects of work design, the work itself and the interactions between employees which can impact their mental health and emotional wellbeing.”

Preventative measures

Key to an improved and systematic approach to managing stress and its adverse impacts is for HR to understand the lived experience and concerns of the workforce.  

Too often, a reactive or intervention-based approach is taken, which is usually too late when those impacted are already burned out or actively looking for a new job. That approach is also reliant on people raising what can be the most uncomfortable topics – workplace culture, job demands and unspoken expectations in a workplace. These important topics are usually left unsaid.  

However, another approach is to utilise the government’s ‘People at Work’ tool. This survey tool has been designed to assist employers to meet their safety obligations and aligns with the new Code of Practice.  

After employees are surveyed (anonymously), a report is then generated and sent to the contact who initiated the survey. Surveys can be initiated periodically as a way of checking in with how implemented measures are working as intended. 

Stepping outside of the detailed guidance of the Code, many employers meet their legal safety obligations by implementing these steps: 

  • Promoting wellbeing and good mental health, so stigma is reduced and employees feel supported to raise issues of concern or disclose mental illness concerns. 
  • Providing an employee assistance program (EAP), so that those who may not be able to freely disclose mental health concerns can still be supported to get assistance. 
  • Encouraging managers and supervisors to use EAP if team members are symptomatic or there are concerns about someone acting more withdrawn or ‘flatter’ than usual. 
  • Providing support, guidance and proactive resolutions in the event that issues are raised or observed in relation to workload, isolation or interpersonal conflict. 

Safety regulators are increasingly willing to investigate the root causes of safety incidents and fatalities when there are allegations or concerns about stress, worker isolation or interpersonal conflict.   

Extent of compliance 

In the event of a serious incident (e.g a suicide which may have arisen from work stress), safety regulators will assess the extent of compliance by an employer against the Code. 

If an employer has implemented key aspects of the Code, then that will be a very good demonstration that it has met its safety obligations owed to employees. In extreme cases, failure to implement the guidance provided by the Code may result in a prosecution under safety laws, with the potential for very large fines and potentially imprisonment for senior staff. 

These new developments and resources make employee expectations of psychologically safe workplaces a concrete reality. This is a key compliance risk and responsibility for HR to manage in 2023.

Will Snow is an Employment and Safety Partner at Finlaysons.


Want to learn more about managing workplace risks to psychological health? Sign up for AHRI’s webinar on 3rd May.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phill
Phill
10 months ago

That’s great to ensure management or senior staff to look out for their employees safety and mentality but this new protocol puts more responsibility and stress onto management or senior staff giving them heightened constant anxiety that if something happens to one of their employees safety or other issues that they will be held responsible with penalties of jail time. There is so much focus on the lower paid staff with pay rises and other things (as mentioned in this article) but what about management and other higher paid staff. What is this concept the higher paid you are the… Read more »

Angela Campbell
Angela Campbell
7 months ago

Hi, I’m currently doing a research project on how HR functions are impacted by psychological hazards and some best practice strategies to minimize psychological hazards. What are the current best practice strategies around intergenerational fairness regarding training and development in the workplace? Has the “Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work code of practice 2022” had an impact on how training and development is managed in the workplace?

Desmons Sherlock
Desmons Sherlock
6 months ago

Hi I just stumbled upon your business and thought this looks interesting. I have been working on a solution that could be used for this especially minor psychosocial hazards, before they can escalate or snowball. It is called Spatz.AI.com and it is an AI-powered app and platform to help monitor, moderate and resolve minor spats in teams. I am looking for some interested parties to help me complete a pilot and get the concept off the ground. There is a demo video on the homepage for how it works Or could you point me in the right direction for such… Read more »

More on HRM