This Code of Practice on managing psychosocial hazards at work is an approved code of practice under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act).
An approved code of practice provides practical guidance on how to achieve the standards of work health and safety required under the WHS Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations (the WHS Regulations), and effective ways to identify and manage risks.
A code of practice can assist anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code of practice. Following an approved code of practice will assist the duty holder to achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act and WHS Regulations, in relation to the subject matter of the code of practice. Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and may not cover all relevant hazards or risks. The health and safety duties require duty holders to consider all risks associated with work, not only those for which regulations and codes of practice exist.
Codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk, risk assessment or risk control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code of practice relates. For further information see the Interpretive Guideline: The meaning of ‘reasonably practicable’.
Compliance with the WHS Act and WHS Regulations may be achieved by following another method if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than the code.
An inspector may refer to an approved code of practice when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice.
Scope and application
This Code is intended to be read by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). It provides practical guidance to PCBUs on how to manage psychosocial health and safety risks at work.
This Code may be a useful reference for other persons interested in the duties under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations.
This Code applies to the performance of work and to all workplaces covered by the WHS Act.
Psychosocial hazards can cause psychological and physical harm. On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work. Managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards not only protects workers, it also decreases the disruption associated with staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.
1.1 Psychosocial hazards at work
Psychosocial hazards are hazards that:
- arise from or in relation to:
- the design or management of work
- the working environment
- plant at a workplace, or
- workplace interactions or behaviours; and
- may cause psychological and physical harm.
Psychosocial hazards and the appropriate control measures may vary between workplaces and between groups of workers, depending on the work environment, organisational context and the nature of work.
Psychological harm or injuries from psychosocial hazards include conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep disorders.
Physical injuries from psychosocial hazards include musculoskeletal injury, chronic disease, and physical injury following fatigue-related workplace incidents.
How do psychosocial hazards cause harm?
Psychosocial hazards can create stress. Stress is the body’s reaction when a worker perceives the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope.
Stress creates a physiological and psychological response in the body by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, raising the heart rate and blood pressure, boosting glucose levels in the bloodstream and diverting energy from the immune system to other areas of the body.
Stress itself is not an injury but if it becomes frequent, prolonged or severe it can cause psychological and physical harm.
Some hazards cause stress when a worker is exposed to the risk of that hazard occurring as well as when they are directly exposed to the hazard itself. For example, workers exposed to workplace violence are likely to experience stress if they perceive that the risk has not been controlled, even if the violence does not occur again. In this situation, despite the hazard rarely occurring, the stress itself may be prolonged1.2 Work health and safety duties
Person conducting a business or undertaking
WHS Act section 19
Primary duty of care
WHS Regulations Division 11
WHS Regulations Part 3.1
Managing risks to health and safety
A PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, workers and other persons are not exposed to risks to their psychological or physical health and safety. A PCBU must eliminate psychosocial risks in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise these risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
For more information see the Interpretive Guideline: The meaning of ‘reasonably practicable’.
The WHS Regulations include specific requirements for PCBUs to manage risks arising from psychosocial hazards.
Under the WHS Regulations, to manage psychosocial risks, a duty holder must:
- identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to psychosocial risks
- eliminate risks, so far as is reasonably practicable
- if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks – minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable
- maintain implemented control measures so they remain effective, and
- review, and if necessary revise, control measures so as to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
In determining control measures to be implemented, a PCBU must have regard to all relevant matters, including:
- the duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to the psychosocial hazards
- how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine
- the design of work, including job demands and tasks
- the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
- the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including the provision of:
- safe means of entering and exiting the workplace
- facilities for the welfare of workers
- the design and layout and environmental conditions of workers’ accommodation
- the plant, substances and structures at the workplace
- workplace interactions or behaviours, and
- the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.
WHS Act section 27
Duty of officers
Officers, such as company directors, have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the PCBU complies with its duties under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. For psychosocial risks this means the officer must take reasonable steps to:
- acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of psychosocial work health and safety matters
- gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the business or undertaking of the PCBU and generally of the psychosocial hazards and risks associated with those operations
- ensure the PCBU has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks from work carried out by the business or undertaking
- ensure the PCBU has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, psychosocial hazards and risks to health and safety and responding in a timely way to that information
- ensure the PCBU has, and implements, processes for complying with any duty or obligation they have under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations, and
- verify the provision and use of the resources and processes mentioned above and that they are performing effectively.
For information on officers and their duties see the Interpretive Guideline: The health and safety duty of an officer under section 27.
WHS Act section 28
Duties of workers
Workers must take reasonable care for their own psychological and physical health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must comply with reasonable health and safety instructions, as far as they are reasonably able, and cooperate with reasonable health and safety policies or procedures that have been notified to workers.
For example, workers must follow any notified workplace policies setting standards for appropriate behaviour aimed at preventing bullying and harassment.
Other persons in the workplace
WHS Act section 29
Duties of other persons at the workplace
Other persons at the workplace, like visitors, must take reasonable care for their own psychological and physical health and safety and must take reasonable care not to adversely affect other people’s health and safety. They must comply, so far as they are reasonably able, with reasonable instructions given by the PCBU to allow them to comply with the WHS Act and WHS Regulations.
For example, a customer in a retail store must not behave violently, nor abuse or harass staff.
Other relevant duties
Other relevant duties under WHS laws are set out throughout this Code of Practice. See Consulting workers, Consulting, cooperating and coordinating activities with other duty holders, Information, training, instruction and supervision, and Remote or isolated work.
WHS laws do not operate in isolation and other laws may also apply. For example, industrial relations, criminal, anti-discrimination, privacy and workers’ compensation laws.
WHS Act section 47
Duty to consult workers
A PCBU must consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a work health and safety matter.
If you and your workers have agreed procedures for consultation, it must be conducted in accordance with those procedures.
Effective consultation with workers improves decision‑making about health and safety matters and assists in reducing work‑related injuries and illness. Workers can identify tasks or aspects of their work that cause or expose them to psychosocial hazards and may have practical suggestions or potential solutions to address those hazards. For example, workers may have ideas to improve work design to minimise the risks of psychological harm.
The definition of ‘worker’ under the WHS Act is broad. In addition to employees, it includes anyone working for the business or undertaking, including contractors and their employees, labour-hire workers, outworkers, apprentices, trainees, work experience students and volunteers.
You must consult with workers when assessing risks or making decisions about the psychosocial risks to health and safety including what control measures are implemented.
Workers from diverse backgrounds may be exposed to different psychosocial hazards. You must consult with all workers, in particular workers with vulnerabilities, who are likely to be directly affected by particular psychosocial hazards. For example, women, young workers, those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, LGBTIQA+ workers and workers with disability are more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment and should be provided with the opportunity to participate in these consultations (which may take different forms), along with all workers who are likely to be directly affected.
WHS Act section 48
Nature of consultation
All consultation must include any Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) representing your workers. References to consultation with workers in this Code includes consultation with any HSRs.
You must provide workers with a reasonable opportunity to raise psychosocial health and safety issues, express their views and contribute to decision-making. You must consider whether existing consultation arrangements are appropriate for psychosocial risks. You must consult with workers and their representatives on implementing new consultation arrangements if required.
When consulting with your workers you must:
- share relevant information
- give workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views, raise health and safety issues and contribute to the decision-making process
- take those views into account before making decisions on health and safety matters, and
- advise workers of the outcome of consultations in a timely manner.
Management commitment and open communication between managers and workers is important in achieving effective consultation. Your workers are more likely to engage in consultation when their knowledge and ideas are actively sought and concerns about psychosocial health and safety are taken seriously. You should encourage workers to:
- share their knowledge and experience, and
- report psychosocial hazards so risks can be managed before an injury occurs.
Effective methods of consultation can vary according to the needs of your workers, workplace size, worker distribution across sites and shifts, the nature of the work and the type of hazards in a workplace. You and your workers should agree the form consultation will take.
For example, consultation could include:
- pre-job-start or toolbox discussions
- focus groups
- worker surveys
- WHS committee meetings
- team meetings, and
- individual discussions.
Each consultation method has benefits and limitations. For example, some forms of consultation are better for workers who do not have regular access to computers, while others allow workers to raise sensitive issues anonymously, or to provide detail and context.
CALD workers may need, or benefit from, different forms of consultation. For example, providing materials and conducting consultation in workers’ preferred language(s) and using culturally appropriate people and messages.
Workers may be hesitant to raise and discuss some psychosocial hazards due to privacy or other concerns, particularly in relation to hazards like bullying or sexual harassment. You should consider consultation processes that address such concerns like anonymous surveys or reporting, particularly where workers may be concerned raising safety issues could impact on their employment or career progression.
You may need to use multiple methods of consultation for psychosocial hazards. The form and methods of consultation must be decided in consultation with workers.
WHS Act section 49
When consultation is required
As a PCBU you must consult with workers when:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks to health and safety arising from the work carried out or to be carried out
- making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks
- making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
- proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of your workers, and
- making decisions about procedures for consulting with workers; resolving health or safety issues at the workplace; monitoring health of your workers; monitoring the conditions at the workplace under your management or control and providing information and training for your workers.
However, it may be useful to also consult workers about matters not listed above.
Regular consultation is better than consulting only as issues arise on a case-by-case basis, or as a reaction to a particular event, because it allows you to identify and fix potential problems early. Further guidance is available in the Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination.
Consulting, cooperating and coordinating activities with other duty holders
WHS Act section 16
More than 1 person can have a duty
More than one person can have the same WHS duty at the same time. The WHS Act requires that where more than one person has a duty for the same matter, each person retains responsibility to meet their duty in relation to the matter and must do so to the extent to which they can influence and control the matter.
WHS Act section 46
Duty to consult with other duty holders
Duty holders must consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with all other persons who have a WHS duty in relation to the same matter, so far as is reasonably practicable. Where you share a duty (e.g. you share a workplace or are involved in the same activity), each duty holder should:
- exchange information
- find out who is doing what about their respective WHS obligations, and
- work together in a cooperative and coordinated way so risks are eliminated or minimised.
Consulting, cooperating and coordinating with other duty holders can help you more easily and effectively control risks, and assist each of you to comply with your duty.
For example, both a PCBU who engages workers through a labour-hire company and the labour-hire company who supplies the workers have WHS duties to ensure the health and safety of the workers. They may consult and cooperate as part of contract negotiations about how to minimise psychosocial hazards, such as high job demands, by agreeing realistic timeframes, and ensuring workers have the skills and support to perform the work. Further guidance is available in the Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination.
 WHS laws use the term plant to describe machinery, equipment, appliances, containers, implements and tools, any part of those things or anything fitted or connected to those things.
1 Overview of the process to manage psychosocial risks
To meet your duties to ensure health and safety, you must eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable. To achieve this, just as for any other hazard, you can apply the risk management process described in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.
The risk management process involves four steps:
- Identify hazards – find out what could cause harm (Chapter 3).
- Assess risks, if necessary – understand the nature of the harm the hazard could cause, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening. This step may not be necessary if the risks and controls are known (Chapter 4).
- Control risks – implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure they remain effective over time. This means:
- you must eliminate risks, if reasonably practicable to do so
- if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, implement the most effective control measures to minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and
- ensure those control measures remain effective over time (Chapter 5).
- Review control measures to ensure they are working as planned and make changes as required (Chapter 6).
All of these steps must be supported by consultation (see Section 1.3 of this Code).
Risk management requires planning and is an ongoing process. However, considering risks early prevents costly changes later and allows for more effective control measures to be used, resulting in less harm to workers. For example, you should consider psychosocial hazards at the design phase when planning an organisational restructure.
The risk management process may be implemented in different ways depending on the size and nature of your business or undertaking. Larger businesses and those in sectors where workers are exposed to more or higher risks are likely to need more complex, sophisticated risk management and consultation processes.
Before you start the process:
- explain the process
- get commitment and engagement from senior leaders and managers
- identify who needs to be involved, for example managers, workers, HSRs and subject matter experts, and
- decide how the process and its outcomes will be recorded and communicated.
Matters to consider when controlling risks
How long (duration), how often (frequency) and how significantly (severity) your workers are exposed to psychosocial hazards impacts the level of risks. Hazards interacting or combining with each other may also change the risks.
As you work through the risk management process you must consider things that may give rise to hazards, influence the level of risks workers are exposed to, or could be changed to help control those risks, including:
- the design of work, including job demands and tasks involved
Considering how the work is designed will support you to eliminate hazards at the source and at the organisational level.
Your workers should have an appropriate amount of work to match their skills and experience. For example, a job designed with too much work for a worker of that skill level to complete with the resources provided, or tasks that do not match that worker’s skillset will create hazards. Matching tasks to workers’ skills and scheduling non-urgent tasks for times of lower demand may assist to control risks.
- systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
Systems of work are organisational rules, policies, procedures and work practices used to organise, manage and carry out work. These systems can introduce psychosocial hazards, but if carefully considered can also help control them.
For example, a system of work that does not allow workers to seek assistance from supervisors, or that allocates tasks without regard for other work demands may introduce hazards. A system of work which provides for support and manages job demands may assist to control risks.
- the design and layout and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including safe means of entering and exiting the workplace and welfare facilities
A poor physical working environment can be a psychosocial hazard, however the way a workplace is set up can also control other psychosocial hazards.
For example, ensuring workers can get away from aggressive customers or can observe when another worker may need assistance.
- the design and layout, and environmental conditions of workers’ accommodation
Like the working environment, accommodation provided for workers can introduce or control psychosocial hazards.
For example, worker accommodation which does not provide adequate privacy or security can contribute to the risk of violence or harassment. Well-designed accommodation can help control these risks.
- plant, substances and structures at the workplace
Plant (e.g. machinery, equipment, appliances and tools), structures and substances used at work can introduce psychosocial hazards where they create a physical hazard that is not adequately controlled. For example, plant can create loud noises, dust and vibrations which creates poor physical environments and contributes to psychosocial risks.
Well-designed and maintained plant can prevent these hazards but can also be used to control other psychosocial hazards. For example, safe plant that allows work to be performed more efficiently can reduce high work demands.
- workplace interactions or behaviours
The way workers interact with each other and other persons in the workplace, their behaviour and relationships can introduce psychosocial hazards. However, supportive leadership, positive relationships and professional and respectful interactions can help to minimise a range of psychosocial hazards.
Poor organisational culture can hamper efforts to improve work health and safety by preventing workers seeking and providing support and discouraging workers from reporting hazards and participating in consultation. Leaders demonstrating poor behaviour are likely to contribute to poor organisational culture.
- information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers
Information, training, instruction and supervision may be necessary to implement control measures effectively (see Section 5.2 for further information and relevant duties). They may also assist in controlling some psychosocial risks, for example where low role clarity is creating a risk, information and training on the worker’s role will assist in controlling the risks.
Leadership and management commitment
Genuine commitment by the PCBU, officers, and other organisational leaders is essential. These leaders, through their governance arrangements and resourcing decisions, actively shape the organisation and the way work is undertaken. These decisions will, directly and indirectly, impact how effectively you can control psychosocial risks.
This commitment can be built by ensuring leaders understand their duties under WHS laws, the risk management process these require, the business case for effectively managing psychosocial hazards, and the roles of various organisational leaders (e.g. human resources and WHS managers).
Consulting workers throughout the risk management process
At each step of the risk management process you must consult workers who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a work health and safety matter and any HSR(s). For example, on proposed changes affecting work health and safety such as:
- new policies, procedures and systems of work
- organisational restructures, changes to staffing levels, new reporting arrangements and work locations
- changes to tasks, workload, duties and working arrangements, including rosters
- new technology, plant, equipment, substances, structures and production processes
- the redesign of existing workplaces, or
- changes to the way information, training, instruction and supervision are provided.
Consultation on changes that may affect work health and safety should occur as early as possible.
See Section 1.3 for more information on consultation.
Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.
2 Identify psychosocial hazards
The first step in the risk management process is to identify psychosocial hazards. This involves identifying the aspects of work and situations that could potentially harm your workers or others at your workplace and why these may be occurring. This step should also assist PCBUs to identify where and when workers are exposed to psychosocial hazards, and if controls are not adequately eliminating or minimising risks from known hazards.
2.1 Common psychosocial hazards
Below is a list of some common examples of psychosocial hazards you should consider when identifying psychosocial hazards in your organisation. The list and the examples in the descriptions are not exhaustive. Workers are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards; some risks may be constantly present, while others arise sporadically.
Some hazards by themselves may cause serious harm, such as experiencing workplace violence. In most circumstances, it will be a combination of psychosocial hazards which together may cause harm. Harm can be caused by a single instance or over time with repeated or prolonged exposure.
Hazards can be grouped or described in different ways. How they are categorised is less important than ensuring you and your workers have the same understanding of what is happening and how it may be causing harm.
|Intense or sustained high mental, physical or emotional effort required to do the job.
Unreasonable or excessive time pressures or role overload.
High individual reputational, legal, career, safety or financial risk if mistakes occur.
High vigilance required, limited margin of error and inadequate systems to prevent individual error.
Shifts/work hours that do not allow adequate time for sleep and recovery.
Sustained low levels of physical, mental or emotional effort is required to do the job.
Long idle periods while high workloads are present, for example where workers need to wait for equipment or other workers.
|Low job control
|Workers have little control over aspects of the work including how or when the job is done.
Workers have limited ability to adapt the way they work to changing or new situations.
Workers have limited ability to adopt efficiencies in their work.
Tightly scripted or machine/computer paced work.
Prescriptive processes which do not allow workers to apply their skills and judgement.
Levels of autonomy not matched to workers’ abilities.
|Tasks or jobs where workers have inadequate support including practical assistance and emotional support from managers and colleagues, or inadequate training, tools and resources for a task.
|Lack of role clarity
|Uncertainty, frequent changes, conflicting roles or ambiguous responsibilities and expectations.
|Poor organisational change management
|Insufficient consultation, consideration of new hazards or performance impacts when planning for, and implementing, change.
Insufficient support, information or training during change.
Not communicating key information to workers during periods of change.
|Inadequate reward and recognition
|Jobs with low positive feedback or imbalances between effort and recognition.
High level of unconstructive negative feedback from managers or customers.
Low skills development opportunity or underused skills.
|Poor organisational justice
|Inconsistent, unfair, discriminatory or inequitable management decisions and application of policies, including poor procedural justice.
|Traumatic events or material
|Experiencing fear or extreme risks to the health or safety of themselves or others.
Exposure to natural disasters, or seriously injured or deceased persons.
Reading, hearing or seeing accounts of traumatic events, abuse or neglect.
Supporting victims or investigating traumatic events, abuse or neglect.
|Remote or isolated work
|Working in locations with long travel times, or where access to help, resources or communications is difficult or limited.
|Poor physical environment
|Exposure to unpleasant or hazardous working environments.
|Violence and aggression
|Violence, or threats of violence from other workers (including workers of other businesses), customers, patients or clients (including assault).
Aggressive behaviour such as yelling or physical intimidation.
|Repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. This includes bullying by workers, clients, patients, visitors or others.
|Harassment including sexual harassment
|such as age, disability, race, nationality, religion, political affiliation, sex, relationship status, family or carer responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
Sexual harassment – any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
|Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions
|between colleagues or from other businesses, clients or customers.
Frequent disagreements, disparaging or rude comments, either from one person or multiple people, such as from clients or customers. A worker can be both the subject and the source of this behaviour.
Inappropriately excluding a worker from work-related activities.
Barriers that may put some workers at higher risk
Like for physical hazards, some workers may be at greater risk from psychosocial hazards due to barriers to understanding or participating in safety processes. This means there is a greater likelihood or severity of harm for these workers. For example, workers with:
- limited experience in the workplace (e.g. young workers)
- barriers to understanding safety information (e.g. literacy or language)
- perceived barriers to raising safety issues (e.g. power imbalance or stigma), or
- previous exposure to a hazard.
For example, inexperienced workers may not identify harmful behaviours or have the confidence to report them. You could address this by providing more detailed induction training and greater support and supervision until they gain experience and understand these hazards.
Consulting your workers will assist you to identify any groups who are at greater risk, and whether there are additional reasonably practicable controls you must implement to eliminate or minimise the risks for these workers.
Addressing risks to individual workers
It may also be reasonably practicable to accommodate the needs of an individual worker to prevent harm where the worker has disclosed those needs or the PCBU is aware. For example, a worker with an injury or disability may need a quiet work area or different equipment to do their work. As well as making changes for individual workers you must still eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks for all workers so far as is reasonably practicable.
These changes may include, but are not limited to, changing workload and work hours, the nature of work, the work environment, or support and supervision.
2.2 How to identify psychosocial hazards
You must identify all reasonably foreseeable psychosocial hazards arising from the work carried out by your business or undertaking.
As well as identifying common hazards, ensure your process identifies hazards for less common but serious incidents, such as sexual or physical assault.
Consult your workers
You must consult with your workers (see Section 1.3 of this Code) when identifying hazards to health and safety arising from the work they carry out or are going to carry out.
If your workers are represented by HSRs you must include them in this consultation. HSRs may have specific training in work health and safety, which can assist you to manage risks. HSRs can also provide workers some anonymity which may encourage better engagement on psychosocial hazards.
Your workers may use different terms to describe exposure to psychosocial hazards. For example, they might say they feel:
- stressed, burnt-out or emotionally exhausted about their workload
- anxious or scared about talking to or dealing with an aggressive person
- humiliated, degraded or undermined by sexual harassment or discrimination
- angry about policies being applied unfairly
- confused about what their role involves, torn between competing priorities or ‘feeling like a failure’ for not being able to meet unrealistic expectations, or
- distressed, unable to sleep, or traumatised by exposure to traumatic situations or content.
Good consultation should allow for differences in how workers may describe hazards and seek to identify the underlying cause. You should provide your workers with information to help them understand and recognise psychosocial hazards.
Use surveys and tools
You can use surveys to gather information from workers, HSRs, supervisors and managers. Surveys are particularly useful when:
- anonymity is important, this is because anonymous surveys or tools protect workers from stigma or other adverse outcomes when reporting hazards or concerns
- workers are physically dispersed. For example, they work across multiples sites or shifts
- you need to consult with a large number of workers
- workers need time to consider your questions and their response, or
- workers may struggle to understand or otherwise participate in other forms of consultation.
Surveys must not replace agreed consultation procedures unless agreed with your workers, however they can be used as an additional tool for consultation.
You can seek advice on the tools available from the work health and safety regulator, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.
Medium to large businesses or organisations, particularly those with high psychosocial risks, should consider implementing a validated psychosocial risk assessment process.
Observe work and behaviours
Psychosocial hazards may be identified by observing:
- the workplace (e.g. are workers isolated or exposed to poor conditions)
- the work and how work is performed in practice (e.g. are workers rushed, is work delayed, do certain tasks result in confusion or frequent mistakes), and
- how people interact with each other (e.g. are workers, customers and clients respectful, or are harmful behaviours present).
In some circumstances, poor workplace behaviours may be an inappropriate response to other psychosocial hazards, such as high job demands, lack of role clarity and inadequate support. Also consider whether the workplace culture supports or tolerates harmful behaviours, including lower level (but still harmful) behaviours like name-calling, teasing, sexual or gendered jokes, and crude language.
Review available information
Review relevant information and records which may include:
- records of injuries, incidents or workers’ compensation
- worker complaints and investigations
- reports from workplace inspections (e.g. HSR or safety officer walk arounds)
- staffing, resourcing, procurement and refurbishment decisions (e.g. will outsourcing some work increase work demands for another area, like contract managers)
- work systems, policies, governance arrangements and procedures
- duty statements and performance agreements
- records of hours worked (e.g. regular extra hours indicating high work demand)
- absenteeism and turnover data and exit interviews
- Health and Safety Committee (HSC) meeting records, and
- previous psychosocial risk assessments and any material feeding into them.
Not all psychosocial hazards will be associated with reported incidents, so it is important to gather additional information.
Information and advice about psychosocial hazards and risks relevant to particular industries and work activities are available from the work health and safety regulator, industry associations, unions, technical specialists, similar workplaces and safety consultants. Advice is particularly helpful in complex or high-risk situations. For example, where workers are exposed to violence or aggression from a person they owe a duty of care to, such as nurses or teachers.
Look for trends
You may be able to identify trends from the information you collect. Trends may show certain tasks have more hazards associated with them, or some hazards are more common in certain roles. Trends may show workers in a particular location are exposed to more hazards than in other areas, which may indicate a problem with the design of that work area or the way work is carried out there. This can inform your risk assessment.
Have a reporting mechanism and encourage reporting
You should establish a mechanism for workers to report hazards. This should protect the privacy of workers who make reports and allow for anonymous reporting where possible. Your reporting mechanism should suit your business size and circumstances and be proportional to the risks in your business. For example, a small café could have a board in the kitchen for workers to write up hazards they identify, a locked box for making confidential reports and the duty manager taking reports of any hazards posing an immediate risk.
When hazards aren’t being reported
Workers might not report psychosocial hazards because they:
– see them as just ‘part of the job’ or the work culture
– believe it’s not serious enough to report
– feel they do not have time to report frequently occurring hazards
– think reports will be ignored, or not handled respectfully and confidentially
– fear they will be blamed or believe reporting may expose them to additional harm, discrimination or disadvantage, or
– do not know or understand how to report a hazard.
If a worker is being bullied, harassed or is exposed to other harmful behaviours they might not report it when the other person is in a position of authority (e.g. a manager or supervisor) or a position of influence (e.g. a client). Workers may be worried about the consequences of reporting, such as the person finding out about the complaint and the behaviour escalating.
It is important for hazards reported by workers be taken seriously. Workers can be encouraged to report hazards by:
- treating all reports of psychosocial hazards seriously and appropriately
- using agreed mechanisms, such as HSRs who can raise safety concerns for workers anonymously
- regularly discussing psychosocial hazards at team meetings or toolbox talks
- providing workers with a range of accessible and user-friendly ways to make a report informally, formally, anonymously or confidentially
- making it clear that victimising those who make reports will not be tolerated
- training key workers (e.g. supervisors, managers, contact persons and HSRs)
- ensuring processes and systems for reporting and responding to complaints of bullying, harassment or other poor behaviours are appropriate, transparent and well understood, and
- acting decisively to control the risks your workers identify.
Your hazards and risks reporting system should be appropriate and proportional for your organisation and the risks in your workplace. For example, a large organisation with previous instances of violent behaviour should consider a formal system with documented procedures. In contrast, a small business with no previous instances of violent or aggressive behaviour may not require a formal system, and could instead encourage workers to discuss hazards with supervisors as required and have a method of reporting and recording details.
3 Assess the risks
3.1 When should a risk assessment be conducted?
Once you have identified psychosocial hazards in your workplace, the next step is to assess the risks they create. This will help you determine what is reasonably practicable in managing the risks.
You should carry out a risk assessment, in consultation with workers and their HSRs if they have them, for any hazards you have identified. However, if you already know what the risks are and how to control them effectively, you can implement the controls without undertaking a risk assessment and then check to confirm these have been effective.
A risk assessment can help you determine how severe risks are, and therefore what is reasonably practicable in managing the risks.
Further information on risk assessments is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.
3.2 How to assess psychosocial risks
To assess the risk of harm, you need to identify the workers affected and consider the duration, frequency and severity of their exposure. Appendix C may assist you to capture this information.
Once you have identified all the hazards you should assess the risks. To do this, consider:
- Duration – how long is the worker exposed to the hazards or risks?
- Frequency – how often is the worker exposed to the hazards or risks?
- Severity – how severe are the hazards and the workers’ exposures?
Consider psychosocial hazards collectively rather than in isolation. Workers and others may be exposed to more than one psychosocial hazard at any time and hazards can interact or combine. For example, a worker exposed to aggressive customer behaviour is more likely to be harmed if at that time they do not have other workers present to support them and do not have the control to alter the way they work to de-escalate the situation. Assessing risks collectively may also assist you to identify more effective control measures.
Psychosocial risks increase when exposure to hazards is more severe (e.g. exposure to a traumatic incident), more frequent (e.g. regularly performing tasks without adequate support), or is longer in duration (e.g. high job demands over weeks or months).
The risks also increase when workers are exposed to a combination of the above mechanisms. For example, short term but severe exposure to a psychosocial hazard (e.g. a violent incident) is more likely to harm workers if they are also exposed to chronic (long duration), but less severe hazards (e.g. ongoing low support).
Psychosocial risks can cause both physical and psychological injuries. The severity of psychological injuries varies, but in comparison to physical injuries, on average, they require longer off work and are more costly.
4 Control the risks
Once you know which psychosocial hazards are present and you have assessed the risks they create, you are in a position to control them.
You must eliminate risks to health and safety if it is reasonably practicable to do so. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, you must minimise risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
Every workplace is different. The best combination of control measures will be tailored to your organisation’s size, type and work activities to manage risks during both everyday operations and emergencies. Example control measures are provided in Appendix A and Appendix B.
To determine what is reasonably practicable to manage psychosocial risks:
- identify as many possible control measures as you can
- consider which of these control measures are most effective, and
- consider which controls are reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
4.1 Identify and select control measures
Identify possible control measures
To identify what can be done you should, in consultation with your workers, identify as many possible control measures as you can. This gives you the greatest scope to choose and apply the most effective control measures to eliminate or minimise risks. Consultation with workers will assist you to identify control measures you might not otherwise think of.
Consider which control measures are most effective
From the possible control measures you have identified, consider which control or combination of controls will be most effective.
You must first aim to eliminate the risks, so identify any control measures which would achieve this. Then order the remaining controls, or combinations of controls, from most to least effective at minimising the risks. Controls that are reliable and offer the highest level of protection are the most effective.
Minimising the risks can be achieved by changing the:
- design of work, including job demands and tasks involved
- systems of work, for example:
- allocating tasks to match skills
- ensuring sufficient time to complete tasks
- support from supervisors and other workers
- work environment and conditions
- workplace interactions including ensuring respectful behaviours and relationships, or
- objects or tools used in the task, for example ensuring plant, substances and equipment are safe and fit for purpose.
Physical risks contributing to psychosocial risks can be minimised through relevant substitution, isolation and engineering controls.
Administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are the least reliable controls and provide the lowest level of health and safety protection. You should consider these last and use them in combination with more effective controls.
For example, policies may be ignored, systems of work may not be understood and followed, and PPE may not always be worn. Further controls, such as supervision, may be needed to make a control more likely to be effective.
Select reasonably practicable control measures
For each of the controls you have identified, consider if it is reasonably practicable to implement in the circumstances. When determining what is reasonably practicable, you must consider all relevant matters, including:
- the likelihood of the psychosocial hazard or the risk occurring
- the degree of harm that might result from the hazards or the risks
- the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risks
- what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know about the hazards or risks, and about the ways of eliminating or minimising the risks, and
- after assessing the extent of the psychosocial risks and the available ways of eliminating or minimising risks, the cost associated with eliminating or minimising the risks, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risks.
The greater the risks, the more that is required to be done to eliminate or minimise it. This may mean using more than one, or a combination of control measures.
Where psychosocial hazards are only present for short periods, infrequently and are not severe, it may not be reasonable to implement expensive and time-consuming control measures. It may, however, be reasonable to apply less expensive controls.
Multiple control measures may be required. The aim must be to keep trying to lower the likelihood and degree of harm until further steps are not reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
Psychosocial hazards can interact or combine with other psychosocial hazards to increase the risks. This means controlling the risks associated with one hazard can also minimise the risks from other psychosocial hazards.
When considering each control or combination of controls, a duty holder must take into account the likelihood of a particular control being effective.
Cost of control measures
Cost is a matter to be taken into account and weighed up with other relevant matters to identify what is reasonably practicable, but this must only be done after assessing the extent of the risk and the ways of eliminating or minimising it.
Where the cost of implementing control measures is grossly disproportionate to the risks, it may be that implementing them is not reasonably practicable and therefore not required. This does not mean that you are excused from doing anything to minimise the risks. A less expensive way of minimising the risks must instead be used. If two control measures provide the same level of protection and are equally reliable, you can implement the less expensive option.
The question of what is reasonably practicable is determined objectively, not by reference to your particular business or undertaking’s capacity to pay, or other individual circumstances. You cannot provide workers with a lower level of protection simply because you are in a lesser financial position than another PCBU facing the same hazards or risks in similar circumstances.
Your goal to produce a product or provide a service at a particular price cannot override your duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your workers and others.
4.2 Implementing control measures
Test control measures
Testing control measures allows you to ensure they are suitable for your workplace, operate as intended and do not introduce new risks.
You should allow enough time for your workers to adjust to changes (e.g. new work processes) before assessing the effectiveness of control measures. At this stage, you should frequently check with your workers on how they think the improvements are working and supervise workers to ensure controls are implemented effectively.
Information, training, instruction and supervision
WHS Act section 19
Primary duty of care
WHS Regulation 39
Provision of information, training and instruction
- the nature of the work to be carried out
- the associated psychosocial hazards and risks, and
- the control measures to be implemented.
For example, if supervisors and managers have a role in implementing workplace policies on addressing harmful behaviours, you must provide them with any training necessary to ensure safety. This may include training, so they know what to do if they witness, experience or have a worker approach them about violence and aggression, bullying or sexual harassment at work or know who to seek guidance from if they have questions.
You must ensure that control measures are maintained so that they remain effective, including by ensuring they are fit for purpose, suitable for the nature and duration of the work; and set up and used correctly. You should decide what maintenance a control measure will require when you implement the control and establish a schedule for routine checks and maintenance. You may prepare a risk register identifying the hazards, what action needs to be taken, who will be responsible for taking the action and by when.
Workplace policies can provide important information and help ensure everyone involved understands the business or undertaking’s processes for managing psychosocial risks. Policies alone should not be relied on to control psychosocial risks, but they can detail responsibilities and help set clear expectations, particularly about behaviours at the workplace and during work-related activities.
You may have separate policies or one policy that covers several work health and safety issues.
Where you have policies relating to psychosocial risks, these must be developed in consultation with your workers and any HSRs. All workers must be made aware of the policies and what is expected of them.
Controlling risks arising from management action
Management action, such as managing unsatisfactory performance or poor behaviour is a necessary part of conducting a business or undertaking. Management action may also be necessary to prevent or control psychosocial hazards, for example:
- increased demands on other workers due to unsatisfactory performance, or
- behaving in a way that may harm others.
PCBUs may be concerned about balancing the need to undertake performance action with the duty to eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks that may arise from the process, so far as is reasonably practicable. This can be done by:
- addressing psychosocial hazards contributing to unsatisfactory performance or poor behaviour, and
- designing the management process in a way that eliminates or minimises psychosocial risks.
Addressing psychosocial hazards contributing to unsatisfactory performance or poor behaviour
Unsatisfactory performance or poor behaviour may be the result of multiple factors, including psychosocial hazards affecting the worker. Confirming whether all psychosocial hazards have been eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable will help you to ensure you are meeting your duties. A range of psychosocial hazards can contribute to poor performance and harmful behaviour, such as:
- lack of support or training to perform the role
- lack of clarity on the role and requirements
- poor interpersonal relationships.
Eliminating or minimising psychosocial risks in the management process
You must ensure you have eliminated or minimised any risks in your management process, so far as is reasonably practicable. For example, control risks associated with:
- poor organisational justice by ensuring you apply policies transparently and fairly, and
- poor interpersonal relationships by conducting the process in a respectful and constructive way.
5 Review control measures
The last step of the risk management process is to review the effectiveness of the implemented control measures to ensure they are working as planned. If a control measure is not working effectively, it must be reviewed and modified or replaced.
Reviewing control measures should be done regularly and is required:
- when the control measure is not eliminating or minimising the risks so far as is reasonably practicable
- before a change at the workplace that is likely to give rise to a new or different health and safety risk that the control measure may not effectively control
- if a new hazard or risk is identified
- if the results of consultation indicate a review is necessary, or
- if an HSR requests a review because they reasonably believe one of the above has occurred and it has not been adequately reviewed already.
Reports, complaints (including informal complaints) or grievances from workers may identify new psychosocial hazards or risks that are not adequately controlled. This should trigger a review of whether your existing control measures are effective, if your response procedures worked the way they were supposed to and whether new risks have been identified that also need to be managed.
Common review methods include inspecting the workplace, consultation, and analysing records and data. You can use the same methods as in the initial hazard identification step to check control measures. You must also consult your workers and their HSRs.
The person reviewing your control measures should have the authority and resources to conduct the review thoroughly and be empowered to recommend changes where necessary. Questions to consider may include:
- Are control measures working effectively, without creating new risks?
- Have workers reported feeling stressed or are they showing signs of harm?
- Have all psychosocial hazards been identified?
- Have risks changed or are they different to what you previously assessed?
- Are workers actively involved in the risk management process?
- Are workers openly raising health and safety concerns and reporting problems promptly?
- Has instruction and training been provided to all relevant workers?
- Are there any upcoming changes that are likely to result in a worker being exposed to psychosocial hazards?
- Are new control measures available that might better control the risks?
- Have risks been eliminated or minimised as far as is reasonably practicable?
If the effectiveness of the control measures is in doubt, go back through the risk management steps, review your information and make further decisions about control measures.
6 Recording the risk management process and outcomes
You should record your risk management process and the outcomes, including your consultation with workers. This allows you to demonstrate you have met your work health and safety duties and will assist you when you need to monitor or review the hazards you have identified and controls you have put in place.
Your records may include the outcomes of consultation, the hazards you identified, how you assessed the risks, the control measures implemented, and the training provided.
You should select a method of recording the risk management process and outcomes to suit your circumstances. For example, you can use a risk register such as the one in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks or in Appendix C.
It is also useful to have a record of the processes used to investigate and resolve issues. You could choose to include only high-level information in the general risk register where you are concerned about the need to maintain confidentiality.
A work health and safety inspector may ask to see a copy of records relating to the risk management processes if they visit your workplace. If you do not have a written record, you will need to demonstrate by other means how you have met your duties.
7 Conducting work health and safety investigations
Any work health and safety investigations into reports of incidents involving psychosocial hazards should primarily aim to identify hazards or new or improved control measures.
Investigations must maintain appropriate privacy and confidentiality of all workers involved to the extent permitted by law. For example, do not discuss reports in public areas or with anyone not involved in the investigation. Ensuring confidentiality should not prevent the parties involved from seeking support.
Nature of investigation
The nature of your investigation should be proportional to the risks and suit the circumstances. When deciding the nature of an investigation consider the:
- level of risks involved
- complexity of the situation, and
- number of workers involved or affected.
A formal investigation may not always be the most effective option. For example, the best response to a single low-level incident may be immediate informal discussions with the workers involved and changes to the relevant control measures. The earlier problems can be identified and addressed, the less likely a formal and complex investigation will be required.
Small businesses may require assistance if a matter is complex or high risk. You can seek advice from the work health and safety regulator, your industry body or a work health and safety expert.
Selecting an investigator
It is important to find an investigator who has the confidence of all parties involved where possible. They should be impartial and have the skills and knowledge to identify psychosocial hazards, assess the risks and recommend appropriate controls.
An external investigator may be required if an impartial internal investigator is not available, for example where a matter involves a senior manager.
Balancing a fair and transparent process
The investigation should be fair, transparent and timely to ensure due process for both those who raised the issue and any workers who have had allegations made about them. Throughout the investigation affected workers should be:
- informed of their rights and obligations during the process
- provided with the opportunity to respond to any allegations made against them
- provided with a copy of relevant policies and procedures
- kept informed about possible outcomes, timeframes, rights of appeal and reviews, and
- provided with adequate and fair support.
Harmful behaviours, such as bullying and harassment can be inappropriate responses from workers exposed to other hazards, for example high job demands and poor support. Where these behaviours breach employment codes of conduct or professional standards you may require a separate investigation into these breaches as a disciplinary matter, as well as a systematic work health and safety investigation looking at any hazards present and ensuring they are controlled.
Where breaches of a code of conduct or professional standard are not proven there may still be an underlying work health and safety risk which needs be controlled.
 Bullying is defined in Safe Work Australia Guidance and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Commonwealth).
 Legal definitions of ‘sexual harassment’ may vary in each state and territory.