Psychosocial hazards - are you compliant?

06 April 2023
Australia Labour, Employment, and Workplace Safety Alert
By: Alanna Fitzpatrick, Partner at K&L Gates

Queensland workplaces need to be alert to the risks created by psychosocial hazards and take active steps to eliminate or minimise the risk of these hazards causing harm to employees.

Employers have always had a duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to take steps to prevent the risk of psychological harm to workers. However, following a change to the law and the introduction of the 'Managing the risk of Psychosocial Hazards at Work' Code of Practice (Code), employers and key decision-makers may be liable to significant financial penalties or even terms of imprisonment if they don’t take steps to manage the risks of psychological harm.

Psychosocial hazards are described as anything in the design or management of work that has the potential to cause a stress response. This encompasses the way the job is performed, the equipment, working environment, as well as the social factors at work including social interactions.

Psychosocial hazards in the hospitality industry are prevalent and arise from both the nature of the workplace and the interaction with patrons.

Sexual harassment, drunk or aggressive customers and unfriendly working hours are all well-known hazards in the industry. Lesser discussed psychosocial hazards can also include noise and dust exposure, high work demands during peak holiday periods and remote or isolated work.

Although many employers will already have systems in place to deal with some of these risks, they may not be considered within work health and safety frameworks. The Code of Practice provides a timely opportunity for employers to assess the effectiveness of those measures and ensure that the full ambit of psychosocial hazards are being comprehensively managed.
The Code requires employers to consult with workers to understand the psychosocial hazards at the workplace and then consider what steps need to be implemented to eliminate the risk or minimise the risk as far as possible.

The first step is for employers to arrange for a comprehensive psychosocial risk assessment to be conducted, to ensure that they have identified all of the psychosocial hazards arising from their business, the severity of each of those risks and the potential controls for eliminating or minimising those risks.

For the key risks identified, employers may find it useful to prepare a prevention plan which clearly sets out the actions to be taken, the person responsible for each action and the date by which each action needs to be taken, as that will make it far easier to implement the outcomes of the risk assessment. High frequency or high consequence psychosocial hazards should be addressed first.

Employers can expect that Work Health and Safety Queensland will be directing enforcement and compliance activities towards understanding how the business is complying with the Code of Practice and manage the risk of psychological harm. Unless you have documented risk assessments and can demonstrate control measures are in place to minimise risk (as distinct from processes to respond to complaints or issues), your organisation may be exposed.