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Is your site prepared for a psychosocial hazards inspection?

New workplace health and safety regulations means employers are obligated to identify psychosocial hazards in their workplace, carry out risk assessments, and create the plans and policy changes necessary to address these hazards.

New workplace health and safety regulations mean employers are obligated to identify psychosocial hazards in their workplace, carry out risk assessments, and create the plans and policy changes necessary to address these hazards.

Heart and Brain Works director Georgi Toma said mental wellbeing at work is not an individual problem but rather the joint responsibility of employer and employees.

“Psychosocial hazards can cause serious and lasting psychological harm, including depression, anxiety, burnout and PTSD. As we’ve seen in a recent High Court case, these new regulations place the onus of care, management and prevention on the employer,” Toma said.

According to the new regulations, a psychosocial hazard is an aspect of work that carries the potential to cause psychological harm when an employee is exposed to it for a long period of time, at high frequency and/or intensity. Psychosocial hazards can arise from or relate to:

  • the design or management of work
  • a work environment
  • plant at a workplace (e.g. machinery, equipment)
  • workplace interactions and behaviours.

“Our audits of different workplaces found that the most common psychosocial hazards include high job demands resulting from staff shortages, incivility, poor organisational change management, and ineffective systems/processes,” Toma said.

“The interesting thing about psychosocial hazards is that they are complex to measure, given their subjective nature. However, rigorous methodologies can be employed to compensate for that. In our audits, for example, we don’t assess hazards in isolation but rather in relation to each other. This is because there is research evidence showing, for example, that good support from manager offsets some of the negative impact of high workload, as does high autonomy, in some cases.”

To meet their obligations, she said, employers must familiarise themselves with the legislation, and then take steps to identify workplace hazards by consulting their employees.

“It’s important to collect data on these aspects of work, to enable measurement and monitoring,” she said.

Once the risks have been assessed, a risk management plan can be developed, and different measures implemented to mitigate hazards.

Where to start

Toma shares a few guiding questions that can help organisations begin to think about psychosocial hazards identification:

 

  1. Are there any aspects related to the way that tasks or jobs are designed, organised, and managed that might cause stress?
  2. Are there any hazardous aspects in the work environment that might affect mental health?
  3. Are the systems, machinery, equipment we use likely to cause stress responses in staff?
  4. Does the way people interact with each other have any negative outcomes?
  5. Are there instances of bullying, sexual harassment or aggression in our workplace?

 

“It is important to understand your areas of risk and their real underlying causes. For example, a hazard like high workload might be underpinned by very different causes. For one organisation it might be staff shortage that’s causing it, but in others we’ve seen it was actually ineffective systems. In our audits we make sure we use both qualitative and quantitative data to understand the real causes of problems. That allows us to share recommendations for controls that are effective,” she said.

Toma said even though it might be difficult in the beginning to implement the new legislation, it will ultimately prove to be a great contributor to increasing growth and positive outcomes for both employees and employers.

“Considering that employees represent the highest cost to the company, an investment in employee wellbeing will most certainly deliver ROI. In fact, a study from the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research (2020) found that for each $1 invested in employee wellbeing an organisation can get back between $5 to $12 through improvements in productivity and retention,” she said.

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