The mental health aspect of workplace risk has become a focus for regulators around Australia as the number of workers compensation claims for psychological injuries has increased over recent years. And the cost of these claims can be three to four times more expensive than for other types of claims.

It's important for employers to understand what the mental health hazards are in their workplaces, and how to address them.

The health and safety regulations around the country are increasing with new codes of practice (in each state) to clarify what employers need to do to protect their workers from both mental and physical risks. This guidance covers the process of recognising potential hazards, implementing a practical risk management framework and understanding what steps are practical for your business size.

Psychological risk management is an obligation for employers — but what does that mean?

  • Protect — identify and manage work-related risks to mental health
  • Respond — identify and respond to support workers experiencing mental ill health or distress
  • Promote — recognise and enhance the positive aspects of work that contribute to good mental health.

Once you have identified what hazards may be present (such as dealing with aggressive members of the public, for example) you need to consider the extent of risk exposure for your employees. This presents an opportunity to consult with and get feedback from your workers about how often they face those hazards. This information can help in formulating solutions to protect employees.

For a business to effectively manage workplace mental risks you may need to implement new controls and review how to support employees who have previously reported mental stress. It's also important to check back with your people about how effective these protective measures might be.

Promoting workplace mental health means recognising that when people feel connected to work, when they feel they make a positive contribution and they've got a safe workplace around them with people that they trust, both colleagues and managers, they thrive — and your business is more likely to thrive too.

Recognising workplace mental health hazards

Australian workers compensation recognises multiple risks and factors contributing to mental health safety cases.

The mental health hazards for workers include:

  • role overload or underload — too much or too little work
  • role conflict — incompatible duties that place the worker under strain
  • poor procedural justice — lack of policy clarity
  • low job control — bad job design, unrealistic time frames
  • poor support — management team disassociated, lack of resources
  • poor change consultation — inadequate communications about new processes and procedures
  • inadequate recognition — achievements overlooked or subsumed into manager's role
  • violence — some roles, in the care sector, for example, involve potential exposure
  • interpersonal conflict — personality clashes when colleagues can't work together
  • bullying and harassment — singled out for discriminatory behaviour
  • isolation — engagement with worker by manager/colleagues lacking
  • exposure to traumatic events — requires available support and resources.

How small businesses can limit workplace mental health hazards

For small businesses it's important to think about your business operations and whether they involve exposures that fall into these areas. In terms of practical risk control once you identify relevant hazards you need to consider their severity: what is the likely consequence of employee exposure? How many workers would be affected? Are there other people in the workplace who might also be affected, such as apprentices of labour hire contractors?

Wherever you have people completing work on your behalf, you need to think about frequency and duration of their exposure to workplace mental health hazards. When are they exposed? How often? What's the likelihood there's going to be some harm that results from it? And finally, what controls are in place to eliminate or reduce this risk?

What do you have in place to try and protect against this? Are these controls working effectively? Do your people need additional support? The best opportunity that you have to manage your risk is to talk to your people, to understand what they're facing and to ensure that you are working with them on appropriate risk control measures.

For controlling psychological hazards well, business owners need to talk to their people about workplace behaviour, making sure they understand what's expected of them, what's appropriate and, if there is inappropriate behaviour occurring, what's the incident reporting process for escalating an issue?

Get expert help with your SME workers compensation insurance

If your business needs help with workers compensation insurance Gallagher can advise and provide access to cover in the locations with choice of insurer. Also your broker, working with our Workplace Risk team, can help you with the right risk management and insurance solutions to help keep your employees protected, and advise on obtaining the right workers' compensation cover for your business.

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