Australian employers need to start taking their workers’ mental health seriously, under a new code of practice released this week by Safe Work Australia.
The model workplace health and safety (WHS) regulations and code of practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work were developed through consultation between the commonwealth, state and territory governments, and employer and worker representatives.
The new model regulations and code cover a range of acute and chronic psychological conditions, from PTSD and depression, to stress caused by overwork.
It advises employers that to meet their primary duty of care requirements, they must “eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable.”
Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter said employers have a positive duty to protect their employees from psychological harm.
“Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm,” Baxter said.
“They can come from the way work is designed and managed, the working environment, or behaviours including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence.”
Safe Work Australia’s model WHS regulations must be adopted by the relevant state authority in order to apply in each jurisdiction. As of this year, Victoria is the only Australian state or territory yet to adopt any iteration of the model regulations.
The new guidance is timely, with the 2020-21 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHW) showing that 15% of people in Australia report experiencing high, or very high levels of stress. The figures for women and the under 34s are closer to 20%.
“Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs,” Baxter said.
“Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.”
The model code of practice is available on the Safe Work Australia website along with other materials including new model WHS regulations to support businesses in meeting their WHS duties.