Sam Popple, Director of the Psychological Health Unit, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland,explains the new Code of Practice for Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work, and what this means for both employees and employers throughout Queensland.
This presentation was part of the Healthy Work Design forum held on 22 March 2023.
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Well, morning everybody. That was such a lovely introduction. Thank you very much. And you mentioned about my intensive care career and it's one of the reasons that I feel so passionately about this space. One of my best friends was, had an event at her work where she suffered from a PTSD and I saw what she went through over two years and I don't, I wanna see if I can prevent that for anybody else. So with that, I want to talk to you about the new psychosocial hazards Code of Practice. It's managing the risks of psychosocial hazards at work that, as Kim said, is going to be live from the 1st of April. I've only got 20 minutes and believe me I can talk all day on this subject. So this is gonna be a problem to actually get me through some of this information. I've got quite a few slides up here and I put them up here because I know that this is recorded but I'm not gonna go through all the words. But we will hopefully, if you wanna see a little bit more either come back and review this talk here today or you can look at the talk that was done yesterday. We did a live stream where we had a whopping 2,800 people kind of attend in person, which was just so phenomenal to see that level of interest out there. And we've also got lots of resources on our website so please, there's plenty of things out there for this. I'm just hoping that the slides are working. Before we do start, I would also like to respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we meet today and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participating in this session. We pay our respect to elders past, present and emerging and recognize and celebrate the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their ongoing cultures and connections to the lands and waters of Queensland. And I think that's particularly important this week because of Harmony Week, which is really about celebrating diversity and making sure that we're including everybody. So obviously with 20 minutes what am I gonna tell you about? I can tell you about a lot of information but I really want to think about what you know what are the things that I want to stick in your head? What are the things that I want you to take away from this? And if any even notice, I've got my earrings with goldfish in and this is the thing that I want you to retain when you leave from here. So we've got a fish fishbowl here, a dirty fishbowl and a really dreadful tank that's not well looked after. So we've got two fish in there. One fish is mentally healthy and one mentally, one fish is mentally unhealthy. And as you can see from the environment in which the fish are in, neither are doing very well. And so really I want you to think about that as the analogy for how we are looking at psychological hazards at work. We are not focusing our attention on the fish themselves and whether they've got a mental injury whether they've got a mental illness or whether they, whether they're doing okay. What we're focusing on here is the environment around which those fish are swimming. And this is the analogy to People at Work. We know that the environment in which people work makes a huge difference to the way that they live their lives, the way that they connect with their communities, the way they connect with their families, the way that they actually perform at work. We know, the evidence base for this is so strong. For every dollar that you invest, you get your heaps back. Anything from like $2.30 to $11. So it's almost like why wouldn't you? And so how do we get to the here? How do we get to that like really good environment where everybody can thrive irrespective of what your mental status is like. Well that's what we really wanted to outline in the code and we know that the risk management process is the way that you go about doing this. This is the best way that we think that you can actually have a thriving workplace. And this has benefits not only for the workers but for the employers. As I've said, you get lots of benefits, you know, productivity benefits from that but also our community as well. And I wanna take talking about community here, I think, you know, just seeing that this event, you know, sold out so quickly, I can really see that these are the champions, you guys are the champions in the room here who are really looking forward to how to apply this and how to apply this in your workplaces. I was talking to Jennifer when I first came in, Jennifer from Tafe, where are you? There you are. Who was saying that she comes along because she's around wanting to provide this information to her students and she wants to help them to be able to understand so that they can teach when they go out. And I just thought that was so fantastic. You know, it's so brilliant that, you know, you guys here are the ones that are gonna take this information and be the ones that apply it and let us know how you're going in that journey. So in terms of the Work Health and Safety Act, we've got different acts regulations and codes of practice. So the Model Work Health and Safety Act requires a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking for those of us who call it PCBU to ensure both the health and safety of workers. And we know Kim's already referenced the fact that health is the poorer cousin of safety and has often simply seen like that. And often that's because it's been a bit trickier, it's a bit harder. And but that is so far as is reasonably practical. And now the act defines health as both physical and psychological. And we've really seen a movement over the last few years that has seen us pay attention to the psychological health of workers and how this is really important. Much harder to be able to see at times but still just as important and just as insidious if we're not looking after that. And really we're talking about that there are moral obligations but these regulations and codes of practice, they're your legal obligations. So this is not a nice to have, this is a must have in your workplaces. We can see that there's a lot of movement around in Australia. Australia I think is probably world-leading at the moment in this space with the amount of legislation that's coming through. We can see that, you know, there's the model regulations and the model code for site that have come up. We've also seen the ISO standard come out which is an international standard. In Queensland which is that red line there, we can see that we've got our regulations and codes, code for psychosocial hazards as well as the amount of resources that we have to back that up. New South Wales had their code couple of years ago and we like to joke with anyone from our colleagues from New South Wales that they might be the first for ours is better and with WA as well as they've got their three codes of practice for psyche. So you can see how much movement is happening in this space. And this really speaks to the fact that we are talking about social change here. The way that we're gonna lift the maturity of workplaces that's gonna benefit everybody, gonna benefit people like, you know, my friend who wouldn't have had a PTSD potentially if we had managed that better and also for our children, right? And I'm sure there's lots of you who can remember working as a teenager in some of the situations we were working in back then. I think I'm older than some of you so you might not. Hopefully you were better than I did. So why is it a growing priority? Well, we're seeing claims going through the roof. We're seeing that there's a 78% increase in accepted psychological claims in the last five years which is obscene. Mental health conditions have the highest amount of compensation. So we know that they're really costly and we know that they're representing quite a large percentage of the total statutory claims. So that's over two times the average time loss claim for physical injuries. We also know that this is only a small portion of the pie. This is only a small part of what we can actually see. So we know that a lot of people don't go onto claim. So even though that this is quite dire, as it is, it's still not the total picture. So the managing the risk of psychosocial hazards work Code of Practice, I want to point out that this is not new legislation. It actually, obligations for psychological health have always existed. They've always been there but we just haven't paid as much attention as we've needed to. So this code is about clarifying what those obligations are, what those legal obligations and that's enforceable from 1st of April. We've also got the regulations there which define psychosocial risks and the meaning of psychosocial hazards. And it talks about that relating to the design and management of work, the work environment, the plant of the workplace and workplace interactions or behaviors that may cause psychological harm. Whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm. I just wanna repeat that, may cause psychological harm or whether or not the hazard may also cause physical harm. We are seeing here with psychosocial hazards that environment, that fish tank, that dirty water doesn't just create psychological harm, it creates physical harm too. And we know it's one of the largest predictors of oh, one of the bigger predictors of musculoskeletal disorders too. So even more reason to pay attention to that. So what is psychological health and safety? So it's about a state of wellbeing in which individuals realize their own potential can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and are able to make a contribution to their community. So we talk about these risks to psychological health as psychosocial risks. So psychological is the phrase or the word that we use to refer to the individual and psychosocial is the term that we use around that individual when they interact with their environment. So we talk about psychological injury, psychological harm and psychosocial risks or psychosocial hazards. And that 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 behaviors that may cause both physical and psychological harm. So this is a diagram from the code and this is really to point out that part around the different harms that it create. We also know that it has different effects as well. So it also has, you know, effects on your productivity, on people's ability to, you know, whether they are engaged at work or not and their intentions to quit. Of course the code is around harm, which is why we've talked about that psychological and physical harm as part. And we know that the psychosocial hazards cause that harm through the stress mechanism and it's that stress mechanism when stress is frequent, prolonged or severe, that's when you see that harm kind of coming through. This is where we're talking around the fish now. If you can focus your efforts on those four kind of domains around the psychosocial hazards and create that healthy environment then you will mitigate those harms that we are seeing there and that's what the Work Health and Safety Obligations are all about. So in the Code of Practice, the principle aim of the code is to give you that practical guidance. So we really have tried very hard to make it as practical as we can and it does that through different sections. So we talk about what are the work related psychosocial hazards, we talk about those common 14 that we are talking about. You might see different ones highlighted in other codes but I think the same, same but different. You can have a look and say, well, what's causing issues for your workers. Who has a health and safety duty in relation to those psychosocial hazards? How you might identify them? And consultation is a key part of that. Factors that may put workers at the higher risk. How to conduct a risk assessment. So how do you know where your risks are? Well I think yeah, the only way you can do that is by asking your workers. So consultation is absolutely key. How you might record that risk assessment process? How you might respond to any complaints incidents or reports of psychosocial hazards? And then we've given some examples at the back of some of those psychosocial hazards, what those controls are? So there's a whole big section at the back if you haven't managed to have a look at it yet, around different controls for different hazards. But we also talk about that that work design, good work design is really gonna be one of those key aspects that's gonna be able to address a lot of those risks that you're seeing. And we've also got an example of work related bullying policy at the back there as well. So some of those common psychosocial hazards that may arise or related to work include these ones that we've got up here. We try and look at these in some ways around the event based, which we are what people commonly gravitate to because I think they're easier to see. They're often the behavior-based ones. So things like violence and aggression, bullying, harassment, including sexual harassment. But we know that those other ones, those other cumulative factors are just as dangerous and just as insidious and they often underpin what we are seeing underneath those behavior ones or work event-based ones. So things like low recognition and reward or, you know, poor justice, poor procedural justice, you know, being unfair in the workplace. They're really strong factors for actually making it unsafe and unhealthy at work. So who has a psychological health and safety duty in relation to psychosocial hazards at work? Well we know that the PCBU has but we also know that the designers of work are manufacturers, importers and installers and suppliers of plant, substances and structures. We know that officers have a duty. It's important that they keep up with what's going on in this space. Workers also have a duty as well as other persons at the workplace. That includes the visitors, delivery persons customers, clients and patients and their families as well. So what is reasonably practicable? So what's that level of where it's, you know, that you are being compliant, making that standard. So this code is enforceable and does show you what is reasonably practicable ensuring health and safety. And we do that by showing the common psychosocial hazards, looking at what metrics and data sources and risk assessment measures that you can use and that will determine me what your likelihood of risk is and the degree of harm that may result. That tells you how much you need to pay attention to this. And it also gives examples of control strategies. The Queensland code. And one of the reasons that we think it's one of the better ones is because of the hierarchy of controls. And this really speaks to the good work design aspect. We felt really strongly that it wasn't enough to just have a lower order control, wasn't enough just to have a policy in place. It wasn't enough just to have, you know, resilience training or mental health first aid, wasn't enough to just think about those really low level. If you have violence and aggression in emergency, you just have a screen in front of your, in front of your people. We felt it was really important that we needed to get people to the point of good work design. This is the control that is the most important one that you can use with a lot of those lower order controls but is your biggest bang for buck and this is the one that you can use to actually make a difference, I think. So some of those key principles in the code are around risk management. It doesn't happen by accident. Managing psychosocial risks, you have to go through the process, you have to identify what those hazards are. You have to assess the risk against that, put controls in place that will reasonably practicable and at the highest order that you can reasonably do. And for the code you have to consult. There is no way that you can understand what's going on with staff if you're not talking to your staff. And I would say for those organizations that have other consultation mechanisms like health and safety representatives, they are also a key mechanism for that consultation. As I said, the risk management process here is absolutely key and it's important that the hazards and sources can be identified. We know that psychosocial hazards are evident in every industry, in every occupation with every worker but they look different. So what they look like in retail, for instance, will look different to what they look like in health care and social assistance. So it's important that you actually go back and have a look at what those hazards are and what the risks are for you because they may be different. You may have two hospitals and they may have different risk profiles. So you need to understand that your controls match that risk profile and you can only do that by identifying your hazards. So where to from here? As I said, this is really just a light glance over what we've put in the Code of Practice. We're incredibly proud of this work and we're incredibly proud to work with people like Michelle and her team for the ergonomists and the healthy work team to really work together on trying to provide the best resources that we can for the Queensland community. We have lots of things on our website that I can suggest that you go to. We've got the Mentally Healthy Workplaces toolkit which is a toolkit to provide you with, you know, how, you know, the how-to across the integrated model for mentally healthy workplaces that looks at prevent being early and support recovery. We've got different guides for different industries and for different hazards. So we've got some up there for violence and aggression. We've got a really fantastic one for one in healthcare. So if there's anyone here from healthcare, I strongly go there. There's a lot of tools in the back for that. Fatigue. We've got a really good fatigue resource there, I think one of the best in the world. So if you've got fatigue issues, if that's one of your part of your risk profile, go there and have a look. I also want to strongly reinforce the People at Work site. Another tool that we are incredibly proud of. This is a Queensland-led initiative that is a digital platform provided to, that provides not just a risk assessment but a whole heap of resources that you can use to guide you in understand in doing the risk assessment. This is a tool that's funded by every jurisdiction and Safe Work Australia in Australia. And we now have over 40,000 respondents on this. So it really has gone gangbuster and we've seen lots of people uptake on this. And I think because it provides, it's free, you know this doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Just go on there and have a look and there's lots of resources around how to do a focus group, how to convince your executive with banners and the, I would also recommend going there if you haven't used it already. You could have a show of hands. Who has heard of People at Work in here? Oh, oh, oh. Who's used People at Work? Okay, that's just made my day. Thank you very much. Please contact us Psychologicalhealth@oir.qld.gov.au with my team. I'm incredibly proud of my team. They're an amazing bunch of people who have waited a long time for this sleeping giant to be awake. We're very excited about that. Please subscribe to eSafe e-bulletin and follow the Work Health and Safety on Queensland Facebook page. And thank you very much everybody. I hope you enjoy your breakfast and they're wonderful panelists that we have on after. Thank you.