Australian law now requires employers to do everything they can reasonably do to prevent harm arising at work. Supporting these laws are Codes of Practice, which provide guidance on how specific risks can be managed. Until recently, this guidance has been limited to the physical risks of harm at work, such as working in confined spaces or managing electrical risks.

A new Code of Practice managing ‘psychosocial hazards’ has been implemented in Australia. ‘Psychosocial hazards’ refer to aspects of work design, the work itself and the interactions between employees which can impact mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Psychosocial hazards are the things at work which create stress and reduce our abilities to cope. When we are stressed, we release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and over a continued period, this will damage our immune systems, leading to physical and mental illnesses arising or being exacerbated.
The Code identifies the separate components of work which contribute to stress. These include:
• High job demands/low job control
• Poor organisational change management
• Inadequate reward and recognition
• Traumatic events or material
• Remote or isolated work
• Harassment/bullying.
Some workers may be at higher risk due to age, literacy or their previous exposure.

Preventative measures
Too often, a reactive or intervention-based approach is taken, which is usually too late when those impacted are already experiencing burnout or actively searching for a new job. This approach is also dependent on people raising what can be the most uncomfortable topics – workplace culture, job demands and unspoken expectations in a workplace. These important topics are usually left unspoken.
It is important to:
• Promote wellbeing and good mental health, so stigma is reduced and employees feel supported to raise issues of concern or disclose mental illness concerns.
• Provide an employee assistance program (EAP), so that those who may not be able to freely disclose mental health concerns can still be supported to get assistance.
• Encourage managers and supervisors to use EAP Assist if team members are symptomatic or there are concerns about someone acting more withdrawn or ‘flatter’ than usual.
• Provide support, guidance and proactive resolutions in the event that issues are raised or observed in relation to workload, isolation or interpersonal conflict.
Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022: