Why employers need to be focusing on mental health in the workplace

Mental health has been a hot topic in our society generally over the past few years, especially after we started to emerge from the pandemic induced lockdowns. These trends in society have been mirrored recently by regulatory bodies across Australia creating various safety regulations, frameworks and codes of practice, meaning that employers now have much more responsibility surrounding mental health risk factors in their workplaces.

What is mental health?

Mental health encompasses emotional, physiological and social well-being, and similar to our physical health, it has a large impact on our day-to-day lives. The state of a person’s mental health will dictate their ability to handle stress, realise their abilities, learn, work and contribute to their workplace and community.

Why is mental health important in the workplace?

Research done into mental health has shown that positive mental health is linked to improved learning and creativity, increased productivity and better social relationships. All of these factors are greatly appreciated within all workplaces and contribute to making an employee successful within their role.

What obligations do employers have?

SafeWork Australia has published both their Model WHS Regulations and Model Code of Practice, which outlines on how employers should manage the risks within the workplace. Employers are obligated to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to prevent employees from being negatively impacted from psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Employers should be assessing the hazards within their workplace and identifying the potential for them to happen:

  1. Identify hazards – what could be causing harm, is anything creating a psychosocial hazard, what are the employees experiencing?
  2. Assess risks – what harm could arise from these hazards, how likely is this harm to occur?
  3. Control or eliminate risks – what measures are in place to mitigate risk?
  4. Review hazards and control measures – are there any new risks or developments to hazards, do further changes need to be made?

In Australia, individual States have the responsibility to legislate for workplace health and safety, and as such not all states have adopted them as of 3 August 2023. Here are the states which currently have legislation and the responsibilities employers have in each jurisdiction:

  • NSW: Work Health and Safety Regulations were updated 1 October 2022, creating the legal obligation for employers to provide safe workplace both physically and mentally amongst other things – Read More
  • QLD: New work health and safety code and regulations were introduced on 1 April 2023, and act as an obligation and a guide on how to prevent harm from psychological hazards at work – Read More
  • WA: Work health and safety regulations for the control of psychological risks came into effect 24 December 2022. Anyone conducting a business are required to eliminate risk, or to minimise them so far as ‘reasonably practicable’ – Read More
  • TAS: New work health and safety regulations were brought in 12 December 2022. It is now mandatory for workplaces to manage psychological health and prevent psychological hazards – Read More
  • NT: New work health and safety regulations were introduced on 1 July 2023, which gives businesses a duty to implement reasonable measures to manage psychosocial risks – Read More

There are currently no regulations in Victoria, ACT and South Australia, however they will all likely eventually follow the same path and adopt changes in laws in line with Safe Work Australia’s Model WHS Regulations and Model Code of Practice.

Businesses can get on the front foot here and start reviewing psychosocial hazards and the risk that exists within your business, then doing what is ‘reasonably practicable’ in ensuring the health and safety of their employees and other people who come in contact with their business. To do what is ‘reasonably practicable’, the employer must consider:

  • how likely is it for the hazard or risk to occur,
  • the degree of harm that might result from a hazard or risk occurring,
  • the availability and suitability of ways to reduce or eliminate risk,
  • how much they know, or should be reasonably expected to know, about the hazard or risk and ways to avoid or eliminate it, and
  • how much it would cost to reduce or eliminate the risk compared to its potential impact.

The model Code of Practice provides a lot of the information required to manage these risks.

What are mental health risk factors in the workplace?

SafeWork Australia has highlighted psychosocial hazards, which are anything that could cause harm to an employee’s mental health that are present in the workplace. Some of these factors include:

  • low job control,
  • poor support,
  • remote or isolated work,
  • conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions, and
  • harassment, including sexual harassment.

If you want to take a look at the full list of psychosocial hazards issued by Safe Work Australia, click here.

How can employers reduce impacts of mental health risk factors?

It is important for employers to understand the steps to take (mentioned above) to mitigate the impacts of psychosocial hazards.

For this process to be successful it should be driven through managerial leadership, but also be informed by experiences of your employees. Furthermore, it is key to understand where psychosocial hazards are and their root causes, as well as what strategies are effective for dealing with each hazard.

Whilst it is nice to have an exercise or yoga session or free massages in the office, those actions alone won’t be effective. Building the foundation for a positive mental health workplace starts with good job design and a supportive leadership culture that promotes mental health and is vigilant towards risks and hazards in the workplace. Once these foundations are built, then these extra things can maybe have a more meaningful impact.

Need assistance?

Are you unsure of how to go about assessing or reducing your risks? ER Strategies are experts in employment compliance and can assist you in managing your employment compliance responsibilities. Get in touch with us at 1300 55 66 37 or click the button below.

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