Psychosocial regulations soon to come into force in two jurisdictions
From 1 April, organisations operating in Queensland and under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety (WHS) regime (Comcare) will have new psychosocial regulations in force. New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia already have regulations, with the balance of the jurisdictions still to announce implementation dates (expected this year) for any regulations.
The regulations in Queensland and the Commonwealth are based on the model regulations developed by Safe Work Australia. They require persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to implement controls to manage the risk of psychosocial hazards.
Determining what controls to implement
Under the regulations, there are several factors that must be considered when determining what control measures to implement to manage the risk of psychosocial hazards. These include the following:
- duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and others to the psychosocial hazards;
- how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine;
- design of work, including job demands and tasks;
- systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported (read more about this below);
- design, layout and environmental conditions of the workplace, including the provision of:
- safe means of entering and exiting the workplace; and
- facilities for the welfare of workers;
- design, layout and environmental conditions of workers’ accommodation;
- workplace interactions or behaviours; and
- information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.
Systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
Apart from the harm posed by harassment and bullying, of which most organisations are familiar and able to address, another challenging area for PCBUs is the risk posed by the manner in which work is managed, organised and supported. The management of work can lead to psychosocial harm in many situations, including:
- role overload;
- role underload;
- role conflict or lack of clarity;
- low job control;
- conflict or poor working relations;
- poor support for supervisors and managers;
- poor co-worker support;
- inadequate reward and recognition;
- poor organisational justice (inadequate or unfair application of process); and
- poor organisational change management.
Clear role descriptions, management of work load, transparent communication and recognition of work success are all critical in minimising risks in this area.
Code of Practice
In addition to the regulations, Queensland is also implementing a Code of Practice from 1 April 2023, based on the model code issued by Safe Work Australia. The Code has been tailored to the Queensland jurisdiction. The layout and content of the Queensland Code differs from the model code, but in substance addresses the same areas of obligation for PCBUs and explanation of practical steps a PCBU can take to manage the risks of psychosocial harm.
For those organisations operating under the Comcare scheme, at present there is no separate code of practice. However, rather there is a wide range of guidance material.
The new provisions to manage psychosocial risks are broad and require consideration of not only the physical work environment but also psychological and social context in the workplace.
To comply with the new positive duty under the regulation, PCBUs should conduct a risk assessment of the workplace, and review whether their current risk control measures are adequate to control the many potential psychosocial hazards. This step is very broad.
PCBUs should then develop new or improve existing control measures considering the factors provided by the regulation.
For more guidance on managing psychosocial hazards, you can refer to the Health & Safety Handbook chapter, Psychosocial hazards.
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