Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work

Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work - The Introduction of New Regulations and Supporting Code of Practice

Workplace safety has always been a paramount concern in Australia. While much attention is paid to physical hazards, the importance of psychosocial hazards in the workplace has been gaining increasing recognition, with a growing need identified for a work health and safety framework to support business.

These psychosocial hazards, which pertain to the psychological and social aspects of work, can have a profound impact on employees’ mental health and well-being. In response to this growing concern, the Australian government has introduced a new Code of Practice to address psychosocial hazards in the workplace that will support the introduction of new WHS regulations due in December 2023. In this post, we delve into what psychosocial hazards are, why they matter, and how this new code aims to improve workplace mental health and safety.


Understanding Psychosocial Hazards

Psychosocial hazards encompass a wide range of workplace factors that can negatively affect employees’ mental health, emotional well-being, and job satisfaction. These hazards are often related to the nature of work, work organisation, and the social context of work and are elements that form part of a workplace culture. Some common examples include:

  • high job demands
  • low job demands
  • low job control
  • poor support from supervisors/co-workers
  • poor role clarity and role conflict
  • poor workplace relationships
  • poor organisational change management
  • poor organisational justice
  • low recognition and reward
  • remote and isolated work
  • poor environmental conditions
  • violent or traumatic events (primary and secondary).


Why Psychosocial Hazards Matter

Addressing psychosocial hazards is not just a matter of moral responsibility; it also makes good business sense. When employees experience high levels of stress, bullying, or other psychosocial hazards, it can lead to a range of negative outcomes for both individuals and organisations including:

  1. Decreased productivity: Stressed or anxious employees are less productive and more prone to making errors.
  2. Increased absenteeism: Mental health issues resulting from psychosocial hazards often lead to higher rates of sick leave.
  3. Higher turnover: Employees are more likely to leave a job that exposes them to psychosocial hazards, leading to recruitment and training costs.
  4. Legal and reputational risks: Failure to address workplace psychosocial hazards can result in legal action and damage an organisation’s reputation.


The New Code of Practice

Recognising the importance of addressing psychosocial hazards, the Australian government has developed new regulations that come into effect in December 2023 coupled with the Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice. The Code of Practice will support businesses to better address the risks caused by psychosocial hazards at work, recognising that a worker’s psychological health is just as important as their physical health. This Code is designed to provide guidance and practical advice to employers on how to identify, assess, and manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace effectively.

The key elements to addressing psychosocial risks include:

  1. Identify Hazards: Engage workers by starting a conversation, review records and workplace data, consider conducting surveys to identify the aspects of work and situations that could potentially cause harm and why these may be occurring. A benefit to surveys includes the creation of an anonymous or ‘safe’ place to protect workers from stigma, or other adverse outcomes when reporting concerns. These reduce barriers in contributing to the conversation.
  2. Assess the Risks: Consider the severity and likelihood of the harm that could arise and any controls currently in place.
  3. Control the Risks: Eliminate the risks if it is reasonably practicable to do so. If this can’t be achieved, consider what controls could assist minimise those risks.
  4. Implementing Control Measures: Create a mechanism to review the effectiveness of the controls put in place.


Understanding Your Responsibilities

Everyone has a part to play in ensuring psychosocial hazards are eliminated or minimised.

Employers have a duty to protect workers from the risk of harm from work-related stress. There is an obligation for employers to understand these risks, assess how they can best control them and take action.

Worker responsibilities include taking responsibility for their own safety and the physical and psychological safety of people they work with. Workers are responsible for doing this by reporting issues, providing feedback, supporting colleagues, understanding your position description and role, requesting training when required and not taking part in toxic workplace interactions.


The introduction of the Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice is a significant step forward in addressing mental health and well-being in the Australian workplace. By recognising and proactively managing workplace culture and psychosocial hazards, employers can create safer, more supportive work environments that benefit both employees and the organisation as a whole. It is imperative for employers to familiarise themselves with this new code and integrate its principles into their workplace safety practices, ultimately fostering a healthier and more productive workforce.

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