Psychosocial hazards and injuries have come under the spotlight recently, with new regulations regarding psychosocial risks having been implemented in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania. Similar regulations are due to commence in Queensland in April 2023 and are being finalised in Victoria for commencement during 2023.
State / Territory
|Psychological Hazard Regulation
New South Wales
Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW), Division 11 as amended by the Work Health and Safety Amendment Regulation 2022 (NSW)
1 October 2022
Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 (WA), Division 11
24 December 2022
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2022 (TAS), Division 11
12 December 2022
Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (QLD), Division 11 as amended by the Work Health and Safety (Psychosocial Risks) Amendment Regulation 2022 (QLD)
1 April 2023
Proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations are currently under consideration
The Australian Work Health Safety Strategy 2023-33 (the AWHS Strategy) has identified psychological injuries as rising in number and severity – with national data showing a 28% increase in workers’ compensation claims for mental health conditions between 2007-08 and 2019-201.
What is a psychosocial hazard?
Psychosocial hazards include anything at work that may cause psychological harm.
What do these hazards look like?
Psychosocial hazards can arise in any workplace and may look different depending on the industry and type of work being undertaken. However, a number of risk factors are common and include:
- workload – including both having too much or too little work to complete within usual business hours;
- poor relationships, supervision and support – including equipment and resources and support from supervisors and co-workers;
- poor organisational justice - including workplaces where there is inconsistency in the implementation of procedures and poor management of underperformers;
- lack of career development and/or recognition - imbalance between the effort workers put in and the recognition or reward they get, either formally or informally;
- role ambiguity – being unclear as to a worker’s job, responsibilities or what is expected;
- role conflict – changing deadlines or contradictory instructions;
- low levels of control and autonomy – having little say in the way that work is to be completed;
- bullying, harassment and discrimination.
What is their effect?
Psychosocial hazards can cause serious injuries to employees if left unmanaged. As expected, those injuries include a range of psychological injuries ranging from loss of sleep and stress to diagnosed mental disorders including depression and anxiety. These hazards can also have physiological effects, including nausea, headaches and muscle strains.
Other than the obvious impact on the injured employee, these hazards can also impact work productivity, including increased sick leave and absenteeism, as well as work ethic and commitment of employees whilst at work. Essentially, an employee who is being affected by a psychosocial hazard (or hazards) is less likely to work effectively and efficiently whilst in the workplace and may well not show up at all.
What needs to be done to manage the hazards?
Under the above New South Wales, Western Australian and Tasmania WHS regulations (and in the soon to commence Queensland regulations), a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the risk of psychosocial hazards in the workplace by either eliminating psychosocial risks completely, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise them as much as possible.
It is important to be proactive in the implementation of the policies – whilst there have not yet been any prosecutions arising from psychosocial hazards, like many other WHS issues, it will not be enough to simply have policies and procedures in place. Rather, they will need to be put into action. That will mean ensuring all staff are made aware of the policy(ies), and, relevantly, trained on how to recognise the psychosocial hazards relevant to their particular workplace, and to know what procedures are in place to deal with them.
Businesses can utilise the free and validated 'People at Work' psychological risk assessment survey in the first instance to help them comply with their health and safety duties, better manage work-related psychosocial hazards and factors and prevent psychological harm - https://www.peopleatwork.gov.au/
 Australian WHS Strategy 2023-33, page 4.