Skip to content

High and/or low job demands

A job can involve a combination of high and/or low physical, mental and emotional demands, which can create risks to the health and safety of workers.

What are high and/or low job demands?

High job demands refer to sustained or intense high levels of physical, mental or emotional demands. It is more than sometimes ‘being a little busy’. High job demands become a hazard when they are excessive or unreasonable, or chronically exceed workers’ capacity.

Sustained very low levels of job demands (e.g. monotonous work) can also be a hazard. Low job demands can become a hazard when they are severe, prolonged or frequent.

A job can involve a combination of low or high physical, mental and/or emotional demands, which can create risks to the health and safety of workers.

What are the risks?

High and/or low job demands can cause a stress response which when frequent, prolonged or severe may cause physical or psychological injury to a worker. High and/or low job demands may occur in isolation, however, often will occur in combination with other psychosocial hazards at work (high workloads may create a greater risk if workers are unable to take breaks, lack the right tools to do their job or if workplace relationships and support are poor).

Like all work health and safety risks, job demands must be managed.

How do I manage the risks?

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological. You must make sure that high and/or low job demands do not create a risk to your own or anyone else’s health and safety.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of your own health and safety in your place of work, and the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions. You must also follow any reasonable instructions given by the person who conducts a business or undertaking (PCBU).

For businesses

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers and others in your place of work. You must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment. You must also talk with your workers (and with other PCBUs when required) about health and safety issues.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

The first step is to identify the presence of high and/or low job demands in your place of work. This means looking at everything from the work environment to work tasks, how they’re carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.

Situations that may lead to high job demands include:

  • time pressure (e.g. working long hours without adequate breaks, giving unreasonable deadlines for work tasks, or being pressured to complete work tasks outside of work hours or while on leave)
  • role overload (e.g. allocating tasks to workers that are beyond their level of competence or capacity, or having to rapidly evaluate complex situations and make effective decisions under pressure)
  • unachievable deadlines
  • high vigilance (e.g. air traffic controllers)
  • challenging work hours or shift work (shift patterns that are unpredictable)
  • unrealistic expectations to be responsive outside of work hours
  • physically demanding work.

Situations which may lead to low job demands include:

  • having little mental stimulation or problem-solving opportunities within the work, or long periods of idle work (e.g. being unable to undertake other tasks while waiting for tools)
  • requiring workers to undertake repetitive tasks with little variety
  • monotonous work, highly automated work or sorting tasks (e.g. sorting irregular fruit, monitoring CCTV cameras, stop/go machine operation)
  • allocation of tasks that are well below a worker’s level of competence or capacity, or where workers cannot maintain their skills (e.g. not enough role-specific tasks to keep competencies).

To determine if job demands may be hazardous in your place of work:

  • talk with health and safety representatives, health and safety committees, workers, customers and clients
  • walk through and inspect your place of work (pace of work, backlog of work)
  • review workers’ compensation claims (for any mention of hazardous job demands leading to stress or injury)
  • refer to industry standards and guidelines
  • review relevant hazard / incident reports and complaints
  • collect and review available internal information (e.g. meeting minutes, records of excessive overtime, turnover data).

A risk assessment involves thinking about what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (the consequence of exposure) and the likelihood of it happening.

Psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the overall psychosocial risk so need to be considered together.

A risk assessment can help you figure out:

  • the severity of a risk
  • whether any effective control measures are in place
  • what actions you can take to control this risk
  • how quickly you should act.

To determine the likelihood that someone will be harmed by exposure to their job demands, ask yourself:

  • has it happened before, either in this place of work or somewhere else?
  • if it has happened, how often does it happen?

To determine the possible consequences, ask yourself:

  • will it cause minor or serious injury, or death?

After the risks have been identified and assessed, you'll need to control them. Risk control measures should be selected on the basis of highest protection and most reliability.

Control measures

  • Eliminating the risk
    The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard and associated risk, for example designing work to ensure manageable workloads and achievable performance standards, or rotating tasks and activities for workers are not over exposed to time pressures or excessively demanding work (or conversely to prolonged or excessive monotonous work).
  • Minimising the risk
    If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard, the risk should be minimised by using a range of control measures, for example scheduling regular breaks throughout the day and ensuring workers are taking breaks to get adequate rest and recovery, ensuring work tasks and cases are matched with the worker’s capability level, or ensuring sufficient cover for workers who are on leave.
  • Using administrative controls
    You must also use administrative controls if there is still a risk after you’ve tried to reduce it with other control measures. Administrative controls protect your workers by working in ways that reduce their exposure to a hazard, for example introducing flexible working arrangement policies and practices, or implementing workload reporting and review systems and scheduling regular opportunities to review workloads with staff.

You may need to use a combination of these control measures to meet your responsibilities under WHS laws. Refer to the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 for more information.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business, and you should review your control measures regularly. Don’t wait until something goes wrong.

In some situations, WHS legislation requires you to review controls.

These are:

  • when the control measure is not effective in controlling the risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • when the dynamic and complexity of your business changes, e.g. for a new supervisor or worker
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

A review of risk control measures should be undertaken after incidents which indicate the presence of psychosocial hazards.

A review of risk control measures can include an examination of:

  • the physical work environment
  • work systems and procedures
  • worker training and information
  • the consultation processes in your place of work.

Legislation and Codes of practice

You should read through the relevant legislation and codes of practice carefully to make sure your business is complying with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act.

Other legislation

A range of laws deal with mental health issues in Queensland workplaces.

Further support

You may wish to contact an organisation listed below for further information or support.

  • Mental Health Commission
  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
  • Mental Health access line – 1300 642 255 a confidential mental health telephone triage service that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services to Queenslanders. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and links callers to the nearest Queensland Public Mental Health service.
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36
  • 13 YARN – 13 92 76 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Heads Up – information and resources on developing a healthy workplaces
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service – assists Queensland workers who have experienced a work-related psychological injury.
  • Injury Prevention and Management Program – IPaM is a joint initiative delivered by WHSQ and WorkCover Queensland. It is a free program designed to help Queensland businesses develop and implement sustainable health, safety and injury management systems.