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Perspective

How to manage psychological risks in the workplace – New Code of Practice comes into force

On 26 May 2021, SafeWork NSW finally introduced the first-ever Code of Practice on psychological risks in the workplace.

Nina Hoang
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The Code of Practice – Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work (Code) is a fantastic new resource created to assist businesses with practical tips and solutions to identify, manage and deal with any psychological risks and incidents that may arise. We recommend that all businesses have a look at this resource, but we have summarised some key points below.

What are common psychosocial hazards in the workplace?

  • Role overload (high workloads or job demands)
  • Role underload
  • Exposure to traumatic events – eg. See recent case about lawyer receiving compensation as she was required to work on child abuse cases
  • Role conflict or lack of role clarity
  • Low job control
  • Conflict or poor workplace relationships between workers and supervisors/managers
  • Lack of support
  • Workplace violence
  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Lack of recognition
  • Hazardous working environments
  • Remote or isolated work
  • Poor procedural justice
  • Poor organisational change consultation

The Code relevantly points out that the severity of the hazard will depend on the individual’s perception of the nature of the hazard. Therefore all PCBUs need to carefully analyse and evaluate each worker, as the level of risk will vary depending on their individual circumstances.

Who is a duty holder under the Code?

  • PCBUs;
  • Other companies carrying out work on the same site;
  • Companies with management and control of a workplace; and
  • Companies who together deliver a service eg. Government agencies establishing policies which would affect the work of others.

Officers also have their own duties, which are proactive and not reactive. These include due diligence obligations to take active steps to ascertain with certainty that their PCBU is compliant with its OHS obligations. None of the duties under the OHS legislation are transferable and cannot be contracted out of.

How to identify risks?

  • Collect information from existing resources
    • Workplace Surveys
    • Incident Reports
    • Investigations
    • Absenteeism Reports
    • Organisational reviews
  • Discussion and consultation with workers to identify key issues and concerns

Key tips for Risk Controls

  • Risk assessment are a tool that should be regularly executed as part of an ongoing improvement process – they are not a one-off solution
  • Risk controls should be implemented across the organisation, and reasonable adjustments should be made to accommodate individual workers’ needs
  • All risk controls must be regularly reviewed and monitored to check their adequacy

What to do when a risk is identified or an incident happens?

  • Just like any workplace incident – conduct an investigation
  • Notify WorkSafe if it is a notifiable incident
  • Keep relevant records and objective notes in case you need to defend any legal proceedings
  • Cooperate and assist in an injured worker’s return to work

Why is this Code relevant to your organisation?

As we explained in our previous article, although it is a NSW Code of Practice, it is important for businesses in all Australian jurisdictions. Courts and Safety Regulators use Codes of Practices (even interstate ones) in determining what the PCBU’s state of knowledge ought to be when considering what is reasonably practicable. WorkSafe Victoria has noted that ‘material published by other Australian health and safety regulators’ is expected to be known by employers if there is insufficient information about the area under the Victorian legislation and codes. As there is no similar Code of Practice that exists in Victoria on psychological risks, undoubtedly, WorkSafe will use and rely on this resource.

The Code contains fantastic examples of different case studies and scenarios to educate businesses, including a sample risk register.

Nina Hoang
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