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Managing psychosocial hazards: Bullying

One of the most well-known psychosocial hazards is bullying. Work-related bullying is when repeated and unreasonable behaviour is directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety. This includes bullying by workers, clients, patients, visitors, or others.

The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 came into effect on 1 April 2023. It provides practical guidance for duty holders on ways to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health and safety at work, including bullying.

Work-related bullying is different to harassment as the behaviour needs to be repeated. Bullying is not a one-off incident and refers to the persistent nature of a range of behaviours a person may be exposed to over time.

There is no specific number of incidents required to meet the repeated part of the bullying definition, nor is it necessary that the same behaviours be repeated to be considered bullying.

Work-related bullying can create a risk to the health and safety of workers when exposure is prolonged, frequent, or severe, and is often inter-related with other work-related psychosocial hazards.

The risk of harm can increase when other psychosocial hazards are not managed – there can be a cumulative effect leading to stress experienced and, over time, may cause psychological or physical illness or injury.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking must follow a risk management process to ensure the health and safety of workers. The process is the same for psychological and physical hazards. Examples of what to do when assessing psychosocial risks:

Identify hazards

  • Consult with workers, and health and safety representatives.
  • Review workers’ compensation claims, internal hazard and complaints records.
  • Walkthroughs of the work environment.

Assess the risk

  • Consider the number of workers exposed to the hazard.
  • Consider the frequency and duration of exposure.
  • Consider the interaction and combination of psychosocial hazards.

Control the risk

  • Control measures needed to implement according to the hierarchy of controls (eliminate or minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable).
  • Controls needed to be from an organisational or systems level (and not be individual-focussed).
  • Include input from workers who are directly involved in the work.

Monitor and review controls

  • Check to see if controls are effective in eliminating or minimising the risk or if they may be creating another hazard.
  • Check if the controls are being adopted by workers.
  • Consider if there’s been a change in the work environment or processes after an incident.

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