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Psychosocial Risk Assessment: Where to Start

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Psychosocial Risk Assessment: Where to Start


Prevent psychological harm at work with a practical, validated tool for conducting psychosocial risk assessments.

7 min read

In our previous psychological health and safety posts, we considered the changing regulatory landscape of workplace mental health and how to identify psychosocial hazards. In this post we will take a look at a practical, validated tool for conducting psychosocial risk assessments.

JD-R model of burnout

Over the last twenty years, the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model of burnout has become popular amongst organizational psychologists as substantial research has shown it accurately describes how work-related stress develops (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014; Demerouti et al., 2001). In the JD-R model, work characteristics are divided into demands and resources:

  • Job demands are physical, psychological, social or organizational aspects of a job that require sustained physical and/or psychological effort. Examples include a high workload, lack of role clarity and exposure to traumatic events or materials.
  • Job resources are aspects of the job that reduce job demands, help employees achieve work goals or stimulate personal growth, learning and development. Examples include supervisor support, job control (autonomy), reward and recognition.

According to the JD-R theory, work-related stress occurs when job demands outweigh job resources (Figure 1). Over time this stress can lead to burnout and ill-health, both physically and mentally.

Psychosocial hazards are anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress (Safe Work Australia, 2019). Thus, psychosocial hazards are job demands. Psychosocial hazards are risk factors for psychological (mental) health as they increase work-related stress. By contrast, job resources are protective factors as they protect workers from stress.

JD-R model of burnout

Figure 1. JD-R model of burnout. Stress occurs when demands outweigh resources and can lead to burnout and ill-health.

Psychosocial risk management

Psychosocial risk management is about preventing psychological harm to workers by eliminating job demands as far as reasonably practicable. Where this is not possible, risk management involves minimizing the impact of job demands through the buffering effect of job resources.

According to Australian work health and safety (WHS) laws, risks to psychological health and safety must be managed like risks to physical health and safety. Because every workplace is different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing psychosocial risks. Each organization needs to:

  1. Identify their particular hazards
  2. Assess the risks associated with these hazards by considering the likelihood and the consequences of the hazards
  3. Control these risks
  4. Review the selected control measures to check they are working as intended

A practical tool

Australian work health and safety regulators in each jurisdiction have heard from employers that they need more support and practical tools to meet their legislative obligations concerning psychosocial hazards. In response the regulators in each state and territory have jointly funded People at Work.

People at Work offers a step-by-step process that workplaces can use to identify and measure risks to psychological health and safety. A key component of the People at Work process is an online survey that measures common psychosocial hazards and job resources found in the research literature.

The five steps in the People at Work process are:

  1. Preparing the workplace: gaining commitment, identifying your champions and communicating your plan
  2. Conducting the survey: setting up and initiating your survey
  3. Understanding your result: accessing your report and analyzing the data to understand your results
  4. Taking action: creating an action plan to ensure the benefits of the People at Work process are fully realized
  5. Reviewing and improving: monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness by repeating the People at Work process

Why use People at Work to measure psychosocial hazards?

  • The tool was developed collaboratively by academic researchers, beyondblue and several WHS regulators. It continues to be funded (and thus endorsed by) all Australian WHS regulators (People at Work, n.d.-a).
  • People at Work is available free of charge.
  • The survey has been validated meaning that interpretations contained in the reports, derived from the survey results, are justified.
  • Under WHS laws it is mandatory to consult with your workers at each stage of the risk management process. Conducting an employee survey is one way to do this for the identification and assessment steps.
  • Survey data is strictly confidential and stored on a secure server.
  • Workplaces can compare their People at Work results with other Australian organizations. The tool’s benchmarking data shows the prevalence of psychosocial hazards across states and territories, sectors, industries and occupations.
  • The People at Work process provides tailored guidance on taking action based on the results.
  • If the survey is repeated every 12 – 18 months, trends over time can be established.

Avoid ‘one and done’ thinking

It is recommended that People at Work be used in conjunction with other methods to identify and assess risks as no tool perfectly captures all existing or potential psychosocial hazards in every workplace.

  • In the previous post we considered forms of workplace data that could be interrogated.
  • The developers of the People at Work survey recommend conducting follow-up focus groups to explore the survey results, understand what psychosocial hazards look like for your workers and to gather information from them about suitable control measures.
  • People at Work can only be used for organizations with 20 or more employees.


The first step is to take a look at a sample comprehensive or overview report to see if this tool would be useful in your organization. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to locate the downloadable report links.

Key Takeaways

  • Work-related stress occurs when job demands outweigh job resources.
  • Psychosocial hazards are job demands and represent risk factors in relation to psychological (mental) health.
  • Under Australian WHS laws, risks to psychological health and safety must be managed using a risk management approach.
  • People at Work is a free, validated, practical tool to identify and measure psychosocial hazards and job resources.