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How to reduce psychosocial risks at work

Preventing and minimising psychosocial risks is good for the bottom line.
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How to reduce psychosocial risks at work

How to reduce psychosocial risks at work

6 October 2020

By Gaby Grammeno

Psychosocial hazards can adversely affect a business as well, for example, in higher levels of absenteeism and presenteeism (workers turning up for work when sick and unable to function effectively), increased accident and injury rates, and poor overall business performance due to lower productivity and higher staff turnover.

About 8000 Australian workers every year make successful workers compensation claims for psychological injuries. These tend to cost more and result in more time off work than physical injuries, so they push up the cost of workers comp insurance. And surveys indicate that the number of accepted workers comp claims is dwarfed by the thousands of workers who don’t put in claims for workers comp but whose wellbeing and job performance are nevertheless undermined by psychosocial issues and work stress.

For all these reasons, preventing and minimising psychosocial risks is good for the bottom line.


Employers’ responsibilities for managing psychosocial risks

Work health and safety laws clearly define ‘health’ to include mental health, so an employer’s duty of care – the obligation to manage health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking – includes a responsibility for workers’ psychological health.

The basic approach is the same as for other types of hazards – identify the risks, assess them and control them, preferably by eliminating the risk where possible.

Workers and their representatives have the best understanding of the psychosocial issues at their workplace, so employee consultation is the logical place to start. Involving workers will help to ensure that the measures put in place are both appropriate and effective.


Staff training

Information and training for staff – especially managers and supervisors – is an essential element of psychosocial risk management. For example, performance appraisal systems can be a major source of stress for some workers, so coaching in how to provide feedback in a way that’s respectful and helpful, rather than in a way that causes distress and feelings of humiliation, can go a long way to alleviate psychosocial pressures on staff.


Intervention

While it can help to undertake general, organisation-wide measures such as establishing and modelling standards of civility and reasonableness in staff interactions, eliminating work overload and role ambiguity, providing praise and recognition for achievements and following consistent, fair and just processes, it is also important to have effective procedures in place for handling grievances and giving particular support to individuals who may need it from time to time, for example, by referring people to an employee assistance program if appropriate.


Return to work

Individual staff members who are returning to work after time off with psychological issues may face extra challenges and generally need confidential and careful support tailored to their own circumstances.

Needless to say, top management’s commitment is a vital prerequisite to any successful effort to create a workplace culture or climate that maximises workers’ health, wellbeing and productivity.


Free online resource

‘People at work’ is a free online psychosocial risk assessment tool that includes resources to help organisations identify, manage and evaluate prevention and management interventions. It is available from Queensland’s Work Health and Safety website.

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