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Psychosocial Regulations – Proposed Amendments and Overview 

26/04/2023by admin0Read: 8 minutes

To address various psychosocial risks workers face, the Australian government has proposed amendments to the existing workplace health and safety laws.

In this guide, we will discuss the proposed changes, Psychosocial risks, and organisations supporting workers in detail.

Psychological Risks Faced by Workers:

Psychosocial risks refer to the potential harm to an employee’s psychological and social well-being caused by work-related factors such as job demands, job control, social support, and organizational culture. These risks are becoming increasingly important to businesses in Australia as they can impact employee productivity, health, and safety.

Workers come across a variety of psychological risks at workplaces. Some risks can be constant, while others might only be present sometimes.

  • High and/or low job demands.
  • Low job control. poor support. unclear roles.
  • Poor organisational change management.
  • Little reward and recognition.
  • Poor organisational justice.
  • Poor workplace relationships, including interpersonal conflict.
  • Remote or isolated work.
  • Poor environmental conditions.
  • Traumatic events.
  • Violence and aggression.
  • Bullying.
  • And harassment, including sexual harassment.

A worker’s experience could travel backward or forwards on this continuum.

Experiences may include:

  • Achieving psychological health is a state of well-being in which people can cope with everyday stresses, work productively, and give back to their community.
  • Responding in a typical way to negative work events that do not constitute harm.
  • Struggling with exposure to psychosocial hazards, where changes can be made to prevent harm.
  • And experiencing a psychological injury where harm is obvious.

Proposed Amendment to Existing Psychosocial Regulations

There have been several developments in 2022-23 in the legislation and guidance material in Australia relating to psychological health and safety, including:

Western Australia:

The beginning of Work Health and Safety Act 2020 on March 31, 2022.

The commencement of the Code of Practice: Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace on February 11, 2022.

Victoria:

The Occupational Health and Safety Amendment for Psychological Health Regulations (proposed) has been created by WorkSafe in response to the Victorian Government’s pledge to adopt legislation addressing psychological health in May 2021. WorkSafe is now reviewing submissions received and promising to amend the proposed regulations where appropriate.)

The new laws would reinforce the framework for occupational health and safety and acknowledge that risks to workers’ psychological wellness are just as destructive to their safety and well-being as physical risks are.

Additionally, they will provide employers with clearer instructions on their responsibilities to better safeguard employees from mental harm.

To ensure that all opinions and concerns were considered and understood, WorkSafe worked directly with key stakeholders during the development of the proposed regulations, including employee and employer representatives, industry experts, medical and allied professionals, legal professionals, and people with lived experience.

The proposed regulations and related Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) were open for public comment. Participants included employers, employees, other interested parties, and members of the general public.

New WHS Regulations and Code of Practice

A healthy and safe workplace must include measures to prevent psychological injury.

The regulations and how to follow them are explained in a new model code of practice on managing psychosocial hazards at work, including concrete ways to control workplace threats to psychological health.

According to Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter, PCBUs have an affirmative commitment under work health and safety laws to make all practical efforts to reduce exposure to psychosocial risks and hazards.

A psychosocial hazard is anything that might have an adverse effect on your mental health at work.

They might be the outcome of rules, practices, or actions at work, such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, antagonism, and violence.

He asserted that workplace-related psychological problems and diseases had a negative impact on workers, their families, and enterprises.

Work-related psychological illnesses often need more time off from work, longer recovery times, and higher costs than physical injuries.

The number of claims for injuries and mental illness under workers’ compensation has exploded, and these claims are now quite expensive.

The Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychosocial Health) Regulations (Vic) (proposed) shall be announced and brought into practice once approved by the Minister.

According to Victorian OHS rules, an employer is required to establish and maintain a working environment that is secure and free from dangers to employees’ health to the extent that doing so is reasonably feasible.

Psychosocial health has long been a part of the notion of employee health. Despite this, recent reports from the Productivity Commission’s Enquiry into Mental Health, Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Enquiry Report, Review of Model Work Health and Safety Laws, and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System all point to the need for improvement in how workplaces perceive and address psychological health.

The proposed Regulations aim to address this by:

  1. Giving employers more precise instructions on their responsibilities to safeguard employees from mental damage.
  2. Acknowledging that psychosocial risks are just as dangerous to employee safety as physical dangers.

Proposed New Changes to Psychosocial Regulations Explained

1. Requirement to Identify Psychological Hazards

The proposed Regulations require employers, so far as is reasonably practicable, to identify psychosocial hazards.

As per the proposed Regulation, the new definition of Psychosocial hazards is given below:

‘Any factor or factors in the work design, systems of work, management of work, carrying out of work or personal or work-related interactions that may arise in the working environment and may cause an employee to experience one or more negative psychological responses that create a risk to their health and safety.’

Bullying, sexual harassment, aggression or violence, exposure to traumatic events or content, high or low job demands, low job control, poor support, poor organisational justice, unclear roles, poor environmental conditions, remote or isolated work, poor organisational change management, low recognition and reward, and poor workplace relationships are a few examples.

2. Control Health and safety Risks associated with Psychological Hazards

In accordance with the proposed Regulations, employers must also take all reasonable steps to reduce or eliminate any risk caused by a psychosocial hazard.

When eliminating such a risk is not reasonably possible, the employer must cut the risk by:

  1. modifying the working environment, the plant, the work systems, the work design, or the management of the job; or
  2. using information, training, or instruction; or
  3. combination of both a and b.

Notably, the proposed Regulations go a step further by stipulating that an employer may only utilise the control measures in b) solely if none of the measures in a) are practically feasible. Additionally, the measures in clause (b) cannot be the main measure when a mixture of measures is utilised.

This demonstrates how much more pressure the new Regulations put on companies to transform the Workplace systemically to enhance psychological wellness.

3. Written prevention plans

An employer has to develop a documented preventive plan that identifies the risk, specifies controls to reduce the risk, and provides an implementation plan for any identified controls if they determine one or more of the psychosocial hazards listed below:

  1. Violence or aggression.
  2. Bullying.
  3. Exposure to traumatic events or content.
  4. High or stressful job demands, or
  5. sexual harassment.

4. Additional Reporting Scheme for Employers with more than 50 Employees

The proposed regulations outline two reporting periods—January 1 through June 30 (inclusive) of each calendar year and July 1 through December 31 (inclusive) of each calendar year.

Employers having more than 50 employees are required to submit a de-identified report to WorkSafe Victoria in 30 days from the end of each reporting period, detailing every reportable psychosocial complaint received by the employer during the reporting period.

5. Reportable Psychosocial Complaints

Problems, including aggressiveness or violence, bullying, or sexual harassment, are considered reportable psychosocial problems.

The report must detail the working relationship between the parties engaged as well as the gender of those who were involved.

The information in the reports will be used by WorkSafe Victoria to identify potential threats to mental health and to persuade businesses to give workplace mental health needs a priority. No information from these studies appears to be made available to the public.

6. Penalties for Failure to Comply with Reporting Scheme

A punishment of more than $10,904 for a natural person and more than $54,522 for a corporate body will be imposed starting on September 1, 2023, for failing to submit a report to WorkSafe Victoria within 30 days of the end of each reporting period. In other words, there will be severe consequences if an employer doesn’t submit a report by January 30, 2024, for the time frame of July 2023 to December 2023.

A copy of the report must also be kept by employers for five years and be available for viewing upon request. A fine of up to $10,904 for a natural person and up to $54,522 for a corporate body may also be imposed for violating these rules.

7. Impact of the Amendment on Employers

Given that the Draught Regulations will shortly go into effect, we firmly encourage employers to:

1. Commence with identifying all present and prospective psychosocial hazards in the Workplace, reviewing current safeguards in place to reduce risks to health and safety from psychosocial hazards, and taking into account any reportable complaints about psychosocial hazards that have been made.

2. In accordance with section 35 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic), employers must:

(1) consult employees to identify hazards and control measures for those hazards;

(2) prepare written implementation plans for any identified control measures; and

(3) be ready to routinely review and assess psychosocial hazards in the Workplace and continuously implement any control measures.

8.  Employees:

Employees must take reasonable care for their safety and health and the health and safety of others in the Workplace. They must also cooperate with their employer in relation to psychosocial risk management and report any hazards or incidents that may impact their psychological well-being.

Psychosocial Regulations – Crucial Laws and Policies

In Australia, psychosocial business regulations mainly revolve around promoting mental health and well-being in the Workplace. Key elements of these regulations include:

1. Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws:

These laws require employers to ensure their employees’ health, safety, and welfare by identifying and minimizing psychosocial hazards. They also mandate that businesses consult with employees on workplace health and safety matters.

2. Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act):

The WHS Act is Australia’s primary legislation governing work health and safety. It requires employers to identify and manage workplace hazards, including psychosocial risks, to ensure the health and safety of workers.

3. Safe Work Australia:

Safe Work Australia is responsible for improving work health and safety across Australia. It provides guidance and resources to businesses on managing psychosocial risks in the Workplace. Its standard guide provides best practice information on managing psychological hazards through risk assessments, intervention strategies, and monitoring processes.

4. National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Mental Health Problems in the Workplace:

The National Code of Practice provides guidance on identifying, assessing, and controlling psychosocial hazards in the Workplace. It includes recommendations on implementing workplace policies and practices that promote mental health and prevent mental illness.

5. Fair Work Act 2009:

This federal legislation outlines rules about workplace discrimination, bullying, and harassment. Employers are required to take necessary measures to prevent such behaviour at work.

6. Disability Discrimination Act 1992:

This act prohibits discrimination against individuals having disabilities, including mental health conditions. Businesses must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with disabilities.

7.  The National Employment Standards (NES):

This set of minimum standards for Australian workplaces includes provisions for flexible working arrangements and personal leave, ensuring that employees have adequate support for managing their mental health.

8. Mental Health First Aid Training:

Many Australian businesses provide their employees with mental health first aid training as a proactive approach to enhancing workplace mental health.

Businesses in Australia need to be aware of these psychological regulations and implement appropriate strategies to ensure a mentally healthy work environment for all employees.

Organisations promoting Psychosocial Risk Management

Several organizations are involved in promoting psychosocial risk management in Australia. These include:

1. Safe Work Australia:

Safe Work Australia provides guidance and resources to businesses on identifying and managing psychosocial risks in the Workplace. This includes the National Code of Practice for Preventing Mental Health Problems in the Workplace.

2. Heads Up:

Heads Up is a joint Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and Beyond Blue initiative. It provides resources and tools to help businesses build mentally healthy workplaces and manage psychosocial risks.

3. Black Dog Institute:

The Black Dog Institute is a mental health research institute that provides training and resources on workplace mental health to businesses and organizations.

4. Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI):

The AHRI is the professional body for human resource practitioners in Australia. It guides and supports businesses in managing psychosocial risks in the Workplace.

Psychosocial Risk Assessment Tools:

Several psychosocial risk assessment tools are available to help businesses identify and manage workplace psychosocial risks. These include the Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey, the Health and Safety Executive Stress Management Standards, and the Work PositiveCI toolkit.

Workplace Mental Health Training:

Many training programs are available to help businesses and their employees manage Workplace psychosocial risks. These include programs provided by Heads Up, Black Dog Institute, and the AHRI.

Anitech can provide a comprehensive psychosocial risk assessment for your business no matter your size and support you to meet regulatory requirements.

For more updates, stay tuned to Anitech.

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