When you watch a window cleaner scaling the nearest highrise, or oversee factory workers operating heavy machinery, or witnessing firefighters running into a building ablaze, the physical dangers to staff safety are obvious. What may not be so apparent however, are the psychological and social dangers present in all workplaces, which is increasingly becoming one of the most significant causes of stress leave in Australia .
Safe Work Australia has released guidelines on how to manage psychosocial hazards at work, encouraging leaders to have a good look at their businesses and ask:
What are the risks to my staff’s wellbeing? And how can these be minimised?
Psychosocial hazards are the working conditions that might cause psychological harm.
Whilst there are various examples of psychological and social risks to staff in any given workplace, the most common of these can be categorised into three areas:
Conditions of one’s role
Mentally challenging work demands, unclear work responsibilities or expectations, tightly controlled schedules, biased or inconsistent work procedures, remote or isolated work where access to resources or communication is limited, or exposure to traumatic and distressing events.
Behaviours within the workplace
lack of support from managers or colleagues, poorly organised management, low recognition or lack of positive feedback, inappropriate conduct such as bullying, harassment, conflict and discrimination.
extreme environmental conditions, such as temperature, noise levels and air quality, fatigue due to work hours or cognitive demands, alcohol and drug use or lack of physical activity.
Whilst some demanding conditions will be a feature of most workplaces now and again, it is the interaction or combination of these over time which heighten the risk and lead to mental health issues and stress claims . **
WHS laws state businesses should eliminate or, if not reasonably practicable, minimise all psychosocial hazards.
Safe Work Australia suggests the following approach:
1. Identify hazards.
What psychosocial risks are part of the job, the company, the field or the identity of staff? For example, if staff are working from home, this could lead to social isolation and a blurring between personal and professional responsibilities.
2. Assess the risk.
How long and frequent will staff be exposed to the hazard? How severe is the risk? For example, are staff permanently working from home? Do they have family/childcare responsibilities as well? Or do they live alone?
3. Control the risk.
If it is reasonably practicable to do so, you must either eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety. For example, is there room for a hybrid workplace set up, in which staff attend the office a few times a week? Are there weekly check-ins to assess working from home conditions?
4. Review control measures
Continuously review the above, and implement new measures when necessary. For example, after the implementation of a hybrid workplace, are there measures in place to check its impact on staff wellbeing?
Whilst it’s difficult to guarantee all risks to staff wellbeing are eliminated, having internal processes to identify psychosocial hazards and review relevant policies is the first step to creating a mentally healthy workplace and preventing any long-term stress concerns amongst your staff.
For more information on managing a mentally healthy workplace, check out our Psychological Safety workshop.
 WorkSafe ACT. (2022). Data snapshot – Psychosocial hazards
Safe Work Australia SafeWork Australia. (2023). Identifying, assessing, controlling and reviewing