Four steps to prevent psychological injury in your workplace

Contributed by Safe Work Australia

Just like work-related physical injuries and illnesses, psychological injuries or illnesses take a significant toll on worker health, safety and productivity. And just like physical injuries, the impact extends from the individual to their families and colleagues.

Psychological injuries are increasing in workplaces and are one of the most expensive work-related injuries in Australia. Safe Work Australia data states workers’ compensation claims for psychological injuries typically result in more than three times as long off work and cost more than twice as much as physical injuries[1].

Work pressure, harassment or bullying, and exposure to workplace or occupational violence are the leading causes of work-related stress and can happen to anyone in any workplace.

The good news is psychological injuries in the workplace are preventable. Everyone has duties under work health and safety (WHS) laws. Under WHS laws, psychological hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Preventing psychological injuries, starts with recognising that businesses can do something to prevent them by taking action and intervening early to identify hazards and eliminate and control the risks.

When identifying hazards, look for anything that could cause harm. Psychological hazards are anything that increases the risk of work-related stress. Stress by itself is not an injury but if prolonged or severe, it can cause psychological and physical injury.

Psychological hazards include:

  • high or low job demand

  • poor support

  • poor workplace relationships

  • low role clarity

  • poor organisational change management

  • poor organisational justice

  • poor environmental conditions

  • remote or isolated work, and

  • violent or traumatic events.

To manage psychological hazards, follow the four-step process:

1. Identify psychological hazards

To identify hazards, talk and listen to workers, inspect the workplace, notice how people interact, review records (e.g. reporting systems, staff turnover and absentee reports) or use tools such as staff surveys.

2. Assess psychological risks

To assess risk, consider what could happen if someone is exposed to that hazard, the degree of harm that may result and the likelihood of that outcome.

If the risks associated with a particular hazard are well known – you can skip this step.

3. Control psychological risks

The hierarchy of controls ranks ways of controlling risks from the most reliable to the least. This hierarchy helps to find the most effective control measure (or combination of control measures) for risks, including psychological risks.

4. Review control measures

Control measures need regular review. Maintaining and monitoring them regularly can ensure they are working. Reviews can include the same methods used to initially identify the hazards.

Consultation

Consulting workers is essential. The people doing the work are the experts in the work they do and the impact it has. Once a conversation is started, workers can identify parts of their work which cause stress and may already have ideas on how to fix them.

Safe Work Australia’s Guide Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties steps you through how to apply the risk management process to psychological risks and what to do at each step. Your WHS regulator can provide advice on this process and tools to assist you.

Safe Work Australia is raising awareness of workplace mental health during National Safe Work Month in October. This includes recognising Mental Health Week 2019, which falls in the second week of October. To find out what is happening in your state, contact your WHS regulator or visit safeworkaustralia.gov.au/nationalsafeworkmonth.

[1] Sourced from Safe Work Australia’s National Data Set for Compensation-based Statistics. These are based on the figures for all serious claims between 2012-13 and 2016-17p. Serious claims are defined as accepted compensation claims which resulted in one or more working weeks lost (excluding fatalities and journey claims). The data for 2016-17 is preliminary and subject to change when new data is available.