Psychological Health and Safety at Work

Understanding Psychosocial Safety at Work: The Legislative Framework in Australia 

Published: June 19, 2024
Psychological Health and Safety at Work

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of psychosocial safety at work, reflecting a broader understanding of what constitutes a safe and healthy workplace. Organisations are beginning to understand that managing mental health and well-being at work is as important as managing physical safety. In Australia, comprehensive laws and regulations have been established to protect employees’ psychosocial health, ensuring a supportive and healthy work environment. 


Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and Regulations 

At the core of psychosocial safety legislation in Australia is the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act). This federal legislation, whose introduction aimed to harmonise the approach to WHS across Australia has been adopted in almost all States and Territories, includes a primary duty of care for an organisation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers while at work. This duty extends to psychological health and safety and psychosocial risk. 

The WHS Act outlines the duty of care employers have towards their employees, requiring them to manage risks related to mental and emotional well-being. Under the WHS Act, employers must engage in proactive risk management. This involves identifying psychosocial hazards, assessing the risks associated with these hazards, and implementing appropriate control measures to mitigate them. 

It’s important to note that there are differences in each State and Territories’ approaches to their specific legislation, and different implemented or proposed changes in the specific requirements related to psychological health and safety. You should check the individual legislation and supporting Codes in the relevant jurisdiction/s of your workforce. 


Codes of Practice and Guidelines 

To assist organisations with their obligations under the WHS Act, various codes of practice and guidelines have been developed. Safe Work Australia, the national body responsible for WHS laws, has published the “Model Code of Practice on Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work.” This document provides practical advice on identifying and managing psychosocial risks. 

In addition to the national guidelines, states and territories have developed their own codes of practice. For instance, New South Wales offers the “Code of Practice: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work,” which provides specific guidance tailored to the state’s legislative context, whereas Victoria has issued a “WorkWell Toolkit” to assist organisations in meeting their obligations. 


Anti-Discrimination Legislation 

Anti-discrimination laws at federal and state levels also aid psychosocial safety by prohibiting workplace discrimination and harassment. These laws protect employees from being unfairly treated based on attributes such as race, gender, disability, and more: 

  • Federal Laws: Key federal laws include the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022. These laws ensure employees are treated with respect and dignity, promoting a psychologically safe workplace. 


Workers’ Compensation Legislation 

Workers’ compensation laws across Australia recognise psychological injuries, ensuring that employees suffering from work-related mental health conditions receive appropriate support and compensation. These laws provide coverage for psychological injuries, allowing employees to claim compensation if their mental health condition arises from work-related stressors, provided they meet certain criteria. 


National Employment Standards (NES) 

The Fair Work Act 2009 includes the National Employment Standards (NES), which provide minimum employment entitlements. Among these standards are provisions that indirectly support psychosocial safety: 

  • Right to Request Flexible Working Arrangements: Employees experiencing family violence or those with caregiving responsibilities can request flexible working arrangements. This flexibility helps manage work-related stress by allowing employees to balance their personal and professional responsibilities more effectively. 
  • Anti-Bullying Measures: The Fair Work Commission has the authority to issue orders to stop workplace bullying, addressing one of the significant psychosocial risks. 


ISO 45003: A Global Standard for Managing Psychosocial Risks 

ISO 45003 provides guidelines for managing psychosocial risks within occupational health and safety management systems. This standard offers a comprehensive framework for organisations to create safer and healthier workplaces by addressing mental and emotional well-being. 


Key Elements of ISO 45003: 

  • Identification of Psychosocial Hazards: ISO 45003 outlines methods for identifying potential psychosocial hazards that can affect workers’ mental health. 
  • Assessment of Risks: The standard provides guidance on assessing the risks associated with identified psychosocial hazards. 
  • Control Measures: ISO 45003 recommends implementing control measures to mitigate the identified risks, ensuring a proactive approach to managing mental health at work. 


Benefits of Training in ISO 45003 for Organisations 

Training in ISO 45003 offers numerous advantages for organisations aiming to enhance their psychosocial safety practices: 

  • Enhanced Understanding: Training helps employees and managers understand the importance of psychosocial safety and how to implement the guidelines effectively. 
  • Improved Risk Management: Organisations can better identify and manage psychosocial risks, leading to a safer and healthier work environment. 
  • Compliance and Best Practices: ISO 45003 ensures compliance with international best practices, positioning organisations as occupational health and safety leaders. 
  • Employee Well-being: Training promotes a culture of well-being, where employees feel supported and valued, leading to increased morale and productivity. 
  • Reputation and Employer Brand: Organisations committed to psychosocial safety are viewed more favourably, attracting, and retaining top talent and enhancing their overall reputation. 


The Wrap 

The legislative framework for psychosocial safety at work in Australia is robust and multi-faceted, reflecting a comprehensive approach to workplace health and safety. By incorporating the WHS Act and Regulations, specific codes of practice, anti-discrimination laws, workers’ compensation provisions, and the ISO 45003 standard, organisations are equipped to manage psychosocial risks effectively. Training in ISO 45003 gives organisations the tools and knowledge to create a supportive, healthy, and productive work environment. As awareness of psychosocial health continues to grow, these laws, regulations, and standards will play an increasingly vital role in creating and maintaining healthier workplaces. 

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