Workplace relations update: What New Psychosocial Hazards Code of Practice means for businesses
By Joanna Minchinton
A new Code of Practice, the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 (‘Code’) will come into effect on April 1, 2023.
The Code has been approved by the Minister for Education, Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Racing, as a Code sitting under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘WHS Act’).
Despite the year in the name of the Code, it comes into effect on April 1, 2023.
When it does take effect, the Code will apply to anyone who has a duty of care to manage the risks associated with psychosocial hazards in a workplace. That includes:
- PCBUs – Persons conducting a business or undertaking;
- PCBUs with management or control of workplaces;
- Other persons at the workplace.
This article has been written for PCBUs and provides practical information about the role of a PCBU in managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Note this article provides a summary only, and should not be taken represent the only considerations for PCBUs.
The WHS Act places an obligation on PCBUs to manage physical and psychological risks in the workplace, so far as it is reasonably practical to do so.
While the Code is not legislation, it is a practical reference guide for persons with a duty of care, such as a PCBU.
Despite not being legislation, the overriding duty in the WHS Act, together with section 26A of the WHS Act, which requires a PCBU to comply with this Code means this Code is an important reference tool for businesses which PCBUs should be following.
In the event a responsible person is subject to proceedings in respect of a WHS breach, the Code, and compliance with it, can be admissible in WHS breach proceedings, or be referred to by a WHS Inspector when considering improvement or infringement notices.
Compliance with this Code is therefore recommended.
What is a psychosocial hazard?
A person’s psychological health can be at risk due to the existence of a psychosocial risk – a risk which arises from a psychosocial hazard.
The Code defines a psychosocial hazard as “a hazard that arises from, or relates to, the design or management of work, a work environment, plant at a workplace, or workplace interactions and behaviours and may cause a psychological harm, whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm”.
What that means for a PCBU is hazards are not simply those that can be easily seen; hazards can present themselves in the form of people as well - where the conduct of those people impact on another’s psychological state.
Common psychological hazards
The Code includes a list of common psychological hazards, and notes what the impact arising from the hazards can be.
Common hazards that can cause risk to a person’s psychological health include:
- High or low job demands
- Low job control
- Poor workplace support
- Low role clarity
- Poor organisational change management
- Low reward and recognition
- Poor organisational justice
- Poor workplace relationships including interpersonal conflict
- Remote or isolated work
- Poor environmental conditions
- Traumatic work or work related events
- Violence and aggression
- Bullying and harassment
- Sexual harassment.
How can I identify a psychosocial hazard?
A PCBU seeking to identify a psychosocial hazard must consult with workers and Health and Safety Representatives (‘HSRs’).
Methods for identifying psychosocial hazards include:
Observation includes looking at how work is performed in the workplace, and how people interact with each other.
- Consultation with workers
As mentioned above, a PCBU must consult with workers when identifying psychosocial hazards in the workplace. As workers may be more aware of hazards in the workplace, a discussion enables the sharing of a) issues that might exist, and b) ideas for addressing those issues.
In consulting with workers, a PCBU should refer to any workplace policies that set out how consultation is to occur, or the protocols to follow in consulting with workers.
In the absence of a policy or protocol, a PCBU must decide on the consultation method to be followed in conjunction with its workers.
- Consultation with Health and Safety Representatives
As mentioned above, a PCBU must also consult with HSRs at their workplace.
PCBUs are not required to have a HSR at their workplace, however, if a request is made in accordance with section 50 of the WHS Act, a PCBU must facilitate the election of a HSR.
Where a HSR has been elected at a workplace, the same worker consultation principles should be applied to HSR consultation.
Other methods for identification of psychosocial hazards include:
- Consultation with networks
- Consultations with suppliers and other parties that provide services to the business
- Reviewing workplace data, including leave records, incident reports, workplace surveys, workers’ compensation claims, and EAP (de-identified) reports
The Code at pages 18-23 provides more detail to the above-mentioned identification methods.
What is reasonably practical?
What will be reasonably practical for a PCBU will depend on the workplace. It means action or activities that were reasonably able to be done at a particular time to ensure the health and safety in the workplace.
The types of considerations for what will be reasonable for a PCBU are set out at page 10 of the Code as:
- The likelihood of the hazard leading to a risk occurring
- The degree of harm that could arise from the risk occurring
- The availability of measures to eliminate or minimise the risk arising from the hazard
- What is known, or should have been known, about the hazard or risk, and what was known, or should have been known about measures to eliminate or minimise the risk
- The actions taken to assess the extent of the risk, and the measures that were available to eliminate or minimise the risk;
- The cost associated with the assessment referred to above; and
- Proportionality of the cost to the risk.
What is risk management?
The assessment of the risk of harm via a risk management process is an important step a PCBU can take. Risk management involves:
1. Identification of psychosocial hazards
2. Assessment of the risk associated with each psychosocial hazard
A risk assessment process involves a PCBU identifying the persons, including workers and others who are likely to be affected by the hazards, while considering:
- The exposure of the hazard – how long workers and/or others are exposed to the hazard;
- The frequency of exposure
The severity of the exposure; and
How psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the risk.
Consultation with industry expert bodies, or WHS consultants can assist a PCBU with the risk assessment.
3. Control of the risks of psychosocial hazards:
a) Elimination of the risk/s and what can be done; and/or
b) How to minimise the risk/s if they cannot be eliminated.
4.Maintaining and reviewing the control measures to ensure the risk remains controlled, and no new risks arise.
How do I manage a complaint / concern when it is raised?
If you don’t know about it, you can’t fix it.
Encouraging workers and others to report psychosocial hazards is important for a PCBU to become aware of potential or existing psychological risks.
Existing complaint management or grievance policies should be updated to ensure that the reporting of hazards is encouraged, with a workplace commitment to deal with complaints or concerns promptly.
More information and assistance
A copy of the Code can be downloaded from the WorkSafe Queensland website. Members are encouraged to download a copy and read it thoroughly.
Business Chamber Queensland members requiring assistance with workplace matters are encouraged to contact the Workplace Relations team on telephone 1300 135 822 or via email: [email protected].
Non members, or members who do not have HR services as part of their membership, can also contact the team for assistance at a competitive hourly consulting rate.