In a previous post we discussed the shifting regulatory landscape in Australia when it comes to workplace mental health. The key change is that businesses are now or soon will be (depending on the jurisdiction) required to apply a risk management approach to psychological health and safety. The first step in this process is to identify reasonably foreseeable psychosocial hazards (Safe Work Australia, 2022b).
Examples of psychosocial hazards
Recall that psychosocial hazards are aspects of work such as the design or management of work, the environment, plant (equipment and tools), and workplace behaviors that can cause psychological and/or physical harm. Fourteen common psychosocial hazards are listed in the model Code of Practice developed by Safe Work Australia (2022a):
- Job demands
- Low job control
- Poor support
- Lack of role clarity
- Poor organizational change management
- Inadequate reward and recognition
- Poor organizational justice
- Traumatic events or material
- Remote or isolated work
- Poor physical environment
- Violence and aggression
- Harassment including sexual harassment
- Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions
Methods to identify psychosocial hazards
Section 3.2 of the Model Code of Practice outlines a variety of methods that can be used to identify psychosocial hazards.
In this post we will consider: (1) ways workers might talk about their exposure to psychosocial hazards during consultation, and (2) sources of workplace data that may help HR staff, HSRs, WHS (workplace health and safety) managers, supervisors and leaders to identify potential psychosocial hazards.
Really listening to workers
Employees may or may not be familiar with the language used in WHS legislation or by WHS practitioners. Therefore, all staff involved in identifying psychosocial hazards need to be alert to the kinds of phrases workers might use to describe hazards to their psychological health and safety (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Recognizing the signs of psychosocial hazards (Safe Work Australia, n.d.).
Let’s consider specific examples of worker language and what psychosocial hazards they might relate to.
Sources of workplace data
Data can be particularly helpful for identifying psychosocial hazards. If your business keeps the following records, review the information and look for trends (Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, n.d.). If you are a medium to large organization and this information is not readily available, the list may prompt you to introduce new record keeping processes. If you don’t yet have a system for reporting psychosocial hazards, start there as it is a recommendation rather than option in the model Code of Practice.
- Sick leave and absenteeism records. Different rates of sick leave across your organization can identify issues in particular work groups.
- Recreation/annual leave. Workers taking small amounts of time off frequently can be a sign of unpleasant working conditions or work-related stress.
- Timesheets and payroll data. Frequent additional hours can signal high job demands or under-resourcing of certain teams.
- Workers’ compensation claims. Psychological harms include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and work-related stress. Workers’ compensation claims can be interrogated for trends relating to these harms.
- Grievances. Worker complaints and investigations can provide information about harassment, discrimination, violence and bullying.
- Employee assistance program (EAP) records. Summary data such as the number of staff using the service as well as the types of issues addressed may be available.
- Staff turnover and exit interviews. Higher than normal staff turnover may be an indicator of psychosocial issues. Exit interviews can uncover problems that have not been formally documented elsewhere. When employees are fearful about the repercussions of reporting issues such as bullying, conflict, poor workplace relationships, lack of support or poor organizational justice, exit interviews may be the only way to capture this data.
- Incident and injury records. Reviewing small and large incidents, including dates and times, can provide insight into possible sources of workplace stress.
- Reports from workplace inspections. HSR or safety officer walk arounds may identify psychosocial hazards.
- Minutes of WHS meetings, toolbox talks and staff meetings. Minutes may reveal unresolved or recurring workload and other workplace health and safety concerns.
- Policies and procedures. Psychosocial hazards can arise from the design and management of work. Therefore, work systems and governance arrangements should be reviewed including onboarding/induction, training and supervision.
- Position descriptions. A lack of role clarity may be evident from vague or nonexistent PDs.
- Industry associations. Workers may report incidents and hazards to outside parties including industry associations and labor unions.
- Employer reviews. Sites such as glassdoor.com and seek.com can provide insights into how workers are experiencing your workplace.
In a subsequent post we take a look at a validated tool for conducting psychosocial risk assessments.
- Changes to the way workplace mental health is regulated in Australia mean businesses will now (or soon) be required to apply a risk management approach.
- The first step in this process is to identify reasonably foreseeable psychosocial hazards.
- Under WHS laws, workplaces are legally required to consult workers. Staff with HR, WHS, management or leadership responsibilities should be familiar with the various ways employees may describe psychosocial hazards.
- Workplace data is a further rich source of information that can be used to identify psychosocial hazards.
- Safe Work Australia. (2022a). Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work. Retrieved 31 October 2022 from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-managing-psychosocial-hazards-work
- Safe Work Australia. (2022b). Model Work Health and Safety Regulations. Retrieved 31 October 2022 from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-whs-regulations
- Safe Work Australia. (n.d.). What psychosocial hazards sound like at work. Retrieved 31 October 2022 from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-09/what_psychosocial_hazards_sound_like.pdf
- Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. (n.d.). How to examine and interrogate workplace data. Retrieved 31 October 2022 from https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/23563/how-to-examine-and-interrogate-workplace-data.pdf