Victoria goes its own way with psychosocial hazards
Victoria is not part of the harmonised laws regarding workplace health and safety. Therefore, it is not expected to adopt the model psychosocial regulations developed last year by Safe Work Australia (read about these regulations here).
However, over a year ago, the Victorian Government committed to introducing its own regulations to recognise that hazards posing a risk to psychological health are as harmful as physical ones. After some delay, the proposed regulations are expected to take effect in the near future and will provide clearer guidance to employers on their obligations to better protect workers from mental injury.
In advance of that regulation, the WorkSafe Victoria has established a specialist Psychosocial Inspectorate to investigate psychosocial hazards.
What hazards will be investigated?
The hazards more likely to attract attention are reports of:
- aggression and violence;
- high job demands;
- exposure to trauma; and/or
- exposure to sexual harassment/gendered violence.
It is more likely in such cases that an inspector will arrange an interview with the complainant to discuss the allegations, and then proceed to make enquiries at the workplace about systems of work and processes to manage the risk. This may result in the issuing of an improvement notice, and a follow-up onsite inspection. The case will then be either closed or referred for comprehensive investigation and potential prosecution under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
Other lesser psychosocial hazards that may attract a less interventionist approach from WorkSafe include reports of:
- low job demands;
- low job control;
- poor support;
- poor organisational change;
- poor organisational justice;
- poor workplace relationships;
- low reward and recognition;
- remote and isolated work;
- poor environmental conditions; and/or
- low role clarity.
What will WorkSafe be looking at?
WorkSafe is looking to ensure employers identify, assess and control the risk posed by psychosocial hazards.
Identification is possible from human resources information, such as sick leave and absenteeism, exit interviews, staff turnover data, staff complaints and employee engagement surveys. Occupational health and safety (OHS) information, such as complaints received and hazard and incident reports, OHS committee meeting records, complaints and investigations reports, psychosocial risk assessments, records of past injuries and workers’ compensation claims are also relevant.
What should employers be doing?
Employers should be assessing the risk (but may skip straight to controls) posed by the identified psychosocial hazards in terms of the seriousness of the risk (i.e. frequency and duration of the hazard and the likelihood of potential harm), who is exposed, and whether the risk is systemic or isolated to a specific task, work location or event. Often there are multiple risks, e.g. job demands and isolated work. Employers need to assess the adequacy of existing controls and determine whether additional or modified controls are required.
Control measures can be categorised as:
- work design, i.e. work equipment and organisation of an employee’s work tasks and responsibilities;
- systems of work, i.e. way in which work is done as dictated by policies, procedures, practices, equipment and materials; or
- management of work, i.e. structure, and governance, procurement and resourcing decisions affecting work demands.
The physical workplace environment and environmental conditions, and any machinery, equipment or IT infrastructure associated with the work is also important.
Get the latest employment law news, legal updates, case law and practical advice from our experts sent straight to your inbox every week.