Mental Health continues to emerge as a WHS risk that, if not managed, has the potential to severely impact the wellbeing of workers.

The WHS Legislation requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.  This includes psychological health.

In order to meet these requirements, employers need to identify, assess, control and review the risks relating to the mental health issues, the same as they would to any other WHS risk.

However, many managers and employers appear unprepared to undertake this process in a confident and robust way.

The first step is to identify the psychosocial hazards that increase the risk of work-related stress. These can include:

  • High job demands (sustained high levels physical, mental and/or emotional effort required – i.e. high pressure)
  • Low job demands (sustained low levels physical, mental and/or emotional effort required – i.e. boredom/no challenge)
  • Conflicting job responsibilities or expectations from managers/supervisors
  • Poor support from managers/supervisors
  • Poor relationships in the workplace, with either managers/supervisors or colleagues, or both
  • Poor clarity around roles
  • Low control of responsibilities or tasks
  • Badly managed change management in the organisation
  • Inadequate recognition and reward
  • Injustice in the workplace, e.g. inconsistent application of policies and procedures
  • Poor performance of management (either real or perceived)
  • Remote and / or Isolated work
  • Experience of violent or traumatic events in the workplace

Once the risks have been identified, the process of assessing them is the same as for any WHS risk:

  • Identify the harm that could be caused by the risk
  • Determine the possible consequences to workers, in light of known control measures
  • Determine the likelihood of it happening (this may incorporate frequency, intensity and duration of exposure to the risk)

Psychosocial hazards can also interact with each other with consequently more serious impacts. For example, a combination of high job demands, low control, and poor support would increase both the likelihood and the severity of harm.

A number of safety regulators have developed strategies and toolkits to assist with the identification and assessment process including Safe Work Australia and WHSQ.