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Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022

Managing psychosocial hazards and risks at work is just as important as managing physical risks.

The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 (PDF, 1.46 MB) (the Code) is a practical guide on how to prevent harm from psychosocial hazards at work, including psychological and physical harm.

The Code is an approved code of practice under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act). It provides information for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) on how psychosocial hazards and risks can be controlled or managed and can be used to help decide what’s reasonably practicable to reduce risk.

The Code is also a helpful resource for workers who may experience harm from psychosocial hazards, including psychological harm, at work.

Watch the toolbox talk presentation on the Code.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 129MB)

Slide 1

Thank you and welcome to a brief overview from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland on the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice.

Psychosocial hazards can exist in every workplace, in every industry, every day.

The release of the Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice 2022 is an important step in keeping Queensland workplaces safe, healthy and productive.

Slide 2

Before we get started, we would like to take the time to respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the various lands on which we meet today and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people listening to this session.

We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and recognise and celebrate the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their ongoing cultures and connections to the lands and waters of Queensland. ​

Slide 3

So what does the legislation say:

The Work Health and Safety Act states that workers should be given the highest practical level of protection against harm to their health and safety from hazards and risks arising from work.

The Act includes a definition of health which means both physical and psychological health.

There is now also corresponding sections in the Regulation that specifically address psychological hazards or risks to psychological health.

The code will underpin the regulations and provide practical guidance on how to achieve the standards of health, safety and wellbeing required under the Act and Regulation. Under the Act, duty holders must comply with an approved code of practice, so far as is reasonably practicable, OR follow another method that provides an equal or higher standard of health and safety than is outlined in the code.

We also have a range of Guidance material available to help employers manage psychosocial risks at work.

Slide 4

Amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulation to explicitly address work-related psychosocial hazards is an important step forward.

In particular, the regulations will raise the profile and awareness of existing duties and remove ambiguity regarding the obligation to manage risks to psychological health at work.

The introduction of the code and regulations will provide clarity and certainty for duty holders about their existing obligations to ensure risks to psychological health are eliminated or minimised under the Act.

They will also assist the Regulator with enforcement activities by providing a clearer framework for compliance action.

Slide 5

This means the code outlines the minimum standard for managing risks to workers’ psychological health that may result from psychosocial hazards.

The Code does not create new work health and safety duties or expand existing duties.  It does, however, provide clarity and certainty to duty holders, through practical guidance about their existing obligations, and gives examples of how to meet these requirements. ​

The Code- and the amended psychosocial Regulations - will be enforceable from 1 April 2023. It’s important to remember that the Regulator will continue to monitor and enforce compliance with the WHS Act prior to this date in line with existing legislation. This means that where duty holders fail to manage risks to health and safety at work- including those associated with psychosocial hazards- enforcement action will be taken.

Slide 6

The Code is broken down in to five sections, including information about the most common psychosocial hazards , who has a health and safety duties relating to psychosocial hazards, what is reasonably practicable in managing these hazards, and also other relevant laws that may apply, that duty holders should be aware of.

It also provides information and guidance on consulting with workers who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by psychosocial hazards at work- and the importance of consulting, cooperating and coordinating your risk management activities with other relevant duty holders (for example where you might share the same workplace). The final sections of the Code provide practical guidance on applying the risk management process to psychosocial risks and hazards, responding to complaints, incidents or reports of psychosocial hazards, and issue and dispute resolution.

Slide 7

Lets take a step back and discuss what we mean when we talk about psychosocial hazards and psychological health and safety?

A psychosocial hazard is 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 psychological harm, whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm.

Psychosocial hazards can create harm through a worker’s experience of a frequent, prolonged and/or severe stress response, where stress is defined as a person’s psychological response (e.g. feelings of anxiety, tension) and physiological response (e.g. the release of stress hormones, or their cardiovascular response) in relation to work demands or threats. Psychosocial risk is a risk to the health and safety of a worker or other person from a psychosocial hazard.

Slide 8

Psychosocial hazards and their effects are not always obvious. Some psychosocial hazards, when present at low levels over a long period of time, can accumulate to significantly affect psychological health. While some psychosocial hazards may cause harm more immediately, such as a single stressful event. In many circumstances, psychosocial hazards will interact and combine to create the risk of harm.

Slide 9

Common psychosocial hazards that arise from, or are related to, work are explored in the Code and may include:

  • high and/or low job demands  
  • low job control
  • poor 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 events
  • violence and aggression
  • bullying
  • harassment including sexual harassment.

Slide 10

As we covered earlier, existing WHS laws require you to manage risks from work-related hazards, including psychosocial hazards, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Psychological health and safety does not happen by chance or guesswork. Duty holders must manage psychosocial risk in accordance with the legislation. This includes identifying hazards, eliminating or minimising risks, controlling risks in accordance with the hierarchy of controls, and maintaining and reviewing control measures to make sure they remain effective. This process is known as the risk management process.

Slide 11

You will find practical information in section 3 of the Code on how to apply this process to psychosocial risks, including:

  • Ways   to identify psychosocial hazards
  • How   to assessing the level of risk they may present
  • How   to identify and implement control measures to manage these risks,
  • And   considerations for maintaining and reviewing these control measures.

Queensland’s code and regulations emphasise the importance of applying the hierarchy of controls to work-related psychosocial hazards- as you would with physical hazards. This ensures higher order – or more effective- control measures are implemented in the first instance wherever possible rather than relying predominantly on ‘lighter touch’ methods such as administrative controls.

*REMEMBER – all of these steps must be supported by consultation.

Slide 12

The final sections of the Code provide information on how workers can be encouraged to report psychosocial hazards, including issues resolution. It also outlines principals that can be applied when responding to complaints, incidents or reports involving psychosocial hazards, and when to notify the regulator.

Workers may be hesitant to raise and discuss psychosocial hazards due to privacy or other concerns, particularly in relation to hazards like work-related bullying or sexual harassment. It is important to consider consultation and reporting processes that address these concerns. This may include anonymous surveys or reporting methods, particularly where workers are in insecure or precarious work arrangements, such as casual employment.

Slide 13

The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 includes a range of resources to support its application in your workplace, including case studies, examples of psychosocial hazards and control measures, examples policies and a risk register.

Failing to manage psychosocial hazards can not only lead to work-related stress, but may result in psychological or physical injuries, lost productivity, a poor workplace culture, and low morale.

The release of the Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice 2022 is an important step in keeping Queensland workplaces safe, healthy and productive.

Slide 14

You can find the Code and a range of additional resources publicly available at www.worksafe.qld.gov.au

Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological or physical harm.

These stem from:

  • the way the tasks or job are designed, organised, managed and supervised
  • tasks or jobs where there are inherent psychosocial hazards and risks
  • the equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties in physically hazardous environments, and
  • social factors at work, workplace relationships and social interactions.

More than one psychosocial hazard may be experienced at the same time. Psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the overall psychosocial risk and should be considered together. Learn more about the common psychosocial hazards that arise from work or are related to work.

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHS Regulation) will be updated to include psychosocial hazard regulations.

The psychosocial hazard regulations (the Regulations) will give more specific detail about how duties under the WHS Act must be performed.

The Regulations define important terms, such as ‘psychosocial hazard’, ‘psychosocial risk’, and clarify what matters PCBUs should consider when implementing ways to manage psychosocial risks.

The Code and Regulations apply to all work and workplaces covered by the WHS Act.

The Code and Regulations cover employers, workers, contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, the self-employed, apprentices and trainees, work experience students, and volunteers.

The Code and Regulations also cover other people in workplaces, such as customers and visitors.

The Code and Regulations do not apply to some Queensland workplaces in the mining and resources industries, and Commonwealth government departments and Australian Public Service agencies.

Queensland mining and resources workplaces have separate health and safety laws that are managed by Resources Safety & Health Queensland (RSHQ). Employers and workers in these industries may wish to contact RSHQ for information about the health and safety laws that apply to them.

Commonwealth government and Australian Public Service employers and workers should contact Comcare for information about health and safety laws.

The Code and Regulations both commence on 1 April 2023.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) will be promoting the new Code and Regulations throughout Queensland before they commence.

In the meantime, the WHS Act and WHS Regulation specify existing obligations for PCBUs to manage risks to both physical and psychological health.

For employers

PCBUs have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of each worker while at work. Health includes physical and psychological health.

This means that PCBUs must ensure that psychosocial hazards at work are effectively managed.

The PCBU’s duty to workers includes ensuring the health and safety of workers from harmful acts from third parties, such as clients, visitors, or patients.

Examples of what the PCBU is required to do to manage psychosocial hazards include ensuring they provide and maintain:

  • a safe working environment
  • safe systems of work
  • safe use, handling, and storage of equipment, structures and substances
  • adequate facilities at work
  • necessary information, training, instruction or supervision of workers, and
  • conditions at the workplace are monitored to ensure any risks remain adequately controlled.

PCBUs must adopt a risk management process, including eliminating psychosocial risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, or if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate psychosocial risks, by minimising them.

PCBUs should follow a four-step risk management process to meet their health and safety obligations under the Code and Regulations:

  1. Identify psychosocial hazards
  2. Assess the risk
  3. Control the risks
  4. Review the controls

Part 3 of the Code provides detailed information about these steps for psychosocial hazards.

PCBUs must identify hazards that could lead to psychosocial risks and minimise them, so far is reasonably practicable.

Psychosocial hazards can arise from organisation-wide systems, work practices, work environments and workplace behaviours, or they can be specific to a task or job.

Psychosocial hazards can be identified by:

  • talking and listening to workers
  • inspecting your workplace
  • taking note of how your workers interact
  • reviewing reports and records, and
  • using a survey tool to gather information from staff.

When identifying psychosocial hazards, workers and health and safety representatives (HSRs) (if applicable) must be consulted.

To help identify psychosocial hazards, PCBUs can observe the workplace. This includes observing how work is performed and how people interact with each other.

Things to look out for include:

  • How is work performed, including the physical, mental and emotional demands of the tasks and activities? (e.g. are workers rushed? Is work delayed? Is there a work backlog?)
  • How do workers, managers, supervisors and others interact and how are inappropriate behaviours or conflicts dealt with? (e.g. are workers, customers and clients respectful?)
  • Are there problems with service delivery, poor relationships, the presence of emotional distress, or cultural or community issues that could lead to conflict or violence at work?
  • Does the culture at work support or tolerate inappropriate behaviour? (e.g. are behaviours like name-calling; teasing; racist, sexual or gendered jokes or vilification; crude language; swearing; or hazing new or young workers ignored or tolerated?)
  • Have any changes occurred at work which may affect psychological health? (e.g. are workers being adequately informed about organisational change?)
  • Does the work environment create psychosocial hazards? (e.g. are workers isolated or exposed to biological hazards such as uncontrolled infectious pathogens or bodily fluids?)
  • Does the nature of the work inherently involve psychosocial hazards and how frequently is this occurring? (e.g. how often are workers exposed to traumatic events?)
  • What are the working arrangements? Do they pose psychosocial risks to workers and others? (e.g. are workers working alone, in contact with the public, or engaged in shift work or working after hours?)
  • Does the workplace support behaviours that promote psychological health? (e.g. is work-life balance encouraged? Are reasonable working hours maintained? Is communication inclusive and respectful? Is return to work following injury proactive and supportive?)

PCBUs must consult workers when identifying hazards and assessing risks to health and safety.

Workers will generally be aware of aspects of work which create psychosocial hazards and may have suggestions on how to manage these hazards.

The way workers are consulted must be decided in conjunction with workers. If there is an agreed procedure for consultation, this procedure must be followed.

Once a PCBU has identified a psychosocial hazard, it needs to assess the risk it poses and decide how to control it. This will depend on:

  • the severity of harm it could cause (from discomfort to serious injury to death)
  • how likely that harm is to occur (from certain to unlikely to rare)
  • what controls are already in place to reduce the risk of harm, and
  • how urgently additional actions need to be taken.

A risk assessment should be carried out for any psychosocial hazards that have been identified where the risk of the hazard(s) or accepted control measures are not well known.

Part 3 of the Code has more information about how to conduct a risk assessment.

PCBUs need to put in place measures that either removes hazards or reduces them as effectively as possible. There are three possible levels of control:

  • Level 1 - eliminate the hazard by removing the risk completely.
  • Level 2 - eliminate as many of the risks associated with the hazard as possible, for example, substituting the hazard for a safer alternative, or isolating the hazard from people.
  • Level 3 - rely on human behaviour and supervision to control the risk. This is the least effective way to reduce risk.

Part 3.3 of the Code has more information about how PCBUs can control the risk of psychosocial hazards.

Once control measures are implemented, they must be maintained and reviewed to ensure they remain effective over time.

This includes ensuring control measures remain:

  • fit for purpose
  • suitable for the nature and duration of the work, and
  • are installed, set up and used correctly.

It is best practice to maintain and review control measures on a regular basis.

Keeping records of the risk management process may assist with demonstrating what has been done to comply with the WHS Act and WHS Regulation.

Parts 3.4 and 3.5 of the Code have helpful information about reviewing control measures and recording the risk management process.

Part 4 of Code has helpful information about the process to follow if a worker has an issue or makes a complaint.

PCBUs should:

  • act promptly
  • ensure immediate safety
  • treat all matters seriously
  • maintain confidentiality
  • be neutral
  • support all parties
  • not victimise
  • communicate process and outcomes
  • keep records, and
  • use a trauma-informed approach (e.g. being mindful that workplace systems recognise that workplace responses about psychosocial hazards can escalate or de-escalate distress in those with a history of trauma).

WHSQ is Queensland’s work health and safety regulator. WHSQ works with industry, businesses, and workers to create a safe and healthy culture in Queensland places of work.

WHSQ does this by:

  • making sure work health and safety laws are followed
  • investigating work-related fatalities and serious injuries
  • taking legal action when work health and safety laws are broken, and
  • educating employees and employers on their legal obligations.

WHSQ uses a range of tools to promote compliance with the legislation and ensure duty holders eliminate or minimise exposure to the risk of illness and injury.

WHSQ inspectors provide information and advice about how to comply with health and safety laws. Inspectors also conduct workplace visits to monitor and enforce compliance.

Yes, the Code and Regulations apply to PCBUs of all sizes covered by the WHS Act.

WHSQ provides a range of free resources to help PCBUs manage psychosocial risks.

These include:

  • People at Work risk assessment survey - a free, validated psychosocial risk assessment survey available via a self-managed digital platform. The survey assesses several of the most common psychosocial hazards.
  • Psychosocial risk assessment - a template for conducting a psychosocial risk assessment.
  • Focus group guide - provides help on how to prepare and conduct a focus group, as well as how to analyse focus group data and report on findings.

The Code also includes a range of resources, such as case studies, examples of psychosocial hazards, example risk management measures, an example risk register, and an example work-related bullying policy.

Using other tools or methods for managing risks are also acceptable. It is up to the PCBU to decide which method to use, based on their circumstances. If a PCBU chooses a different approach, it needs to either give the same or a higher standard of protection than the Code.

A code of practice provides practical guidance for businesses on how to achieve health and safety standards required under the WHS Act. A code of practice also outlines effective ways to identify and manage risks. Under Queensland WHS laws, codes of practice are enforceable. Duty holders may follow another method, such as a technical or an industry standard, if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety to the standard required in the code.

The ISO 45003 Standard (Occupational health and safety management - Psychological health and safety at work - Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks) provides organisations with guidelines for managing psychosocial risks in the workplace, as part of an occupational health and safety management system based on ISO45001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems). While these standards may assist businesses to develop a quality framework for the management of risks in their workplace, they are not compulsory by law. If your organisation is small or lower risk, you may be able to demonstrate effective risk management with less formal management processes.

Businesses may choose to seek further guidance from the ISO standards or other resources to achieve compliance with their legal obligations (outlined within codes of practice relating to a particular hazard). The practical implications for businesses regarding interpretation, implementation (auditing and certification) must be considered for businesses looking to adopt this framework, to ensure their systems for managing workplace hazards and risks are appropriate for their organisation.

For workers

Workers play an important role in ensuring safe and healthy workplaces.

The Code is a helpful resource for workers who may experience harm from psychosocial hazards at work.

For example, Part 5 of the Code outlines the process that a worker can follow if they have a complaint or issue about psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

The Code and Regulations cover workers, contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, the self-employed, apprentices and trainees, work experience students, and volunteers.

While at work, workers must:

  • take reasonable care for their own work health and safety
  • ensure their actions or lack of action does not harm others, and
  • follow reasonable health and safety instructions, policies or procedures. If workers believe these are not adequate, they should provide this feedback, in a reasonable way, to their supervisor or HSR(s).

For example, workers should behave fairly and reasonably when working with others, (e.g. be respectful at work and follow the organisation’s policies and procedures, including those to manage the risk of bullying, and harassment including sexual harassment).

WHSQ provides information and resources to workers about health and safety, including psychological health.

WHSQ also helps workers by making sure that PCBUs follow health and safety laws.

If a health and safety issue cannot be resolved at the workplace level, a worker can ask WHSQ for help resolving the issue.

Individual workers should report psychosocial hazards directly with management or with their Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) who can raise issues on behalf of a work group.

Early reporting of psychosocial hazards is encouraged so hazards can be managed before they cause harm.

There are various ways workers may report or raise psychosocial hazards, including:

  • discussions with supervisors
  • incident report forms
  • emails or mobile text messages
  • advising their HSR(s), WHS Committee, and/or union representatives
  • letters of complaint or grievance
  • medical certificates, or
  • workers’ compensation claims.

If a health and safety issue cannot be resolved at the workplace level, a worker can ask WHSQ for help resolving the issue.

Part 5 of the Code has further information about dispute resolution and the steps that should be followed.

Workers are entitled to elect a HSR to represent them in the workplace about health and safety matters.

HSRs have a specific role to:

  • represent members of their work group in matters relating to work health and safety
  • monitor the measures taken by the PCBU or their representative to comply with the WHS Act in relation to workers in their work group
  • investigate complaints from members of the work group relating to work health and safety, and
  • inquire into anything that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of workers in their work group, arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.

If you or a colleague are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious there are services to help.

  • Lifeline – 24/7 crisis support service, including phone, texting and chat services.
  • Beyond Blue – information and support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention for everyone in Australia.
  • Black Dog Institute – research and resources on mental health in the workplace.
  • SANE – helpline service, as well as resources on mental health.