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Managing psychosocial risks at work

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) in the Northern Territory has specific responsibilities to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace.

Management of psychosocial risks is covered by a PCBU’s primary work health and safety (WHS) duty of care. However the psychosocial provisions in the WHS Regulations clarify those duties, by expressly addressing the identification of psychosocial risks and how to manage them.

What is a ‘psychosocial risk?’

‘Psychosocial risks’ are defined as risks caused by hazards which:

  • may cause psychological harm (whether or not they may also cause physical harm); and
  • arise from or relate to:
    • the design or management of work;
    • a work environment;
    • plant at a workplace; or
    • workplace instructions or behaviours.

Common psychosocial hazards at work include:

How does this impact me?

It is not enough for PCBUs to have a workplace policy on mental health, or to simply respond to psychosocial injuries after they occur. A more proactive approach to the identification, assessment, and management of mental health risks in the workplace is required.

The management of psychosocial risks is aligned with the principles for managing physical safety risks. This means that PCBUs must:

  • implement control measures to eliminate psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable; and
  • if elimination is not reasonably practicable, implement control measures to minimise the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

Where the risk is required to be minimised, the hierarchy of control must be applied, including one or more of the following measures:

  • substituting (wholly or partly) the hazard giving rise to the risk with something that gives rise to a lesser risk;
  • isolating the hazard from any person exposed to it; and
  • implementing engineering controls.

If a risk remains, the duty holder must minimise the remaining risk, as far as is reasonably practicable, by implementing administrative controls. Suitable personal protective equipment must be provided and used as a final measure to minimise a remaining risk.

Determining the appropriate control measures

When deciding which control measures to implement, a PCBU must consider all relevant matters, including but not limited to:

  • the duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to the psychosocial hazards;
  • how the psychosocial hazards may interact or combine;
  • the design of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported;
  • the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported;
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including the provision of;
  • safe means of entering and exiting the workplace;
  • facilities for the welfare of workers;
  • the plant, substances and structures at the workplace;
  • workplace interactions or behaviours; and
  • the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers. 

How can I comply with the psychosocial requirements?

Businesses that already have detailed WHS policies and procedures are on the right track. However, all businesses should update their policies to specifically address mental health and psychosocial risks.

PCBUs should conduct a risk assessment of the workplace and review their current risk control measures to determine if they adequately control psychosocial hazards.

PCBUs may also need to undertake courses to be better equipped and have capacity to deal with these matters.

It is important that PCBUs actively take steps to address the requirements, as failure to comply with a WHS obligation can result in significant penalties for PCBUs and their officers.

Resources to assist with compliance

NT WorkSafe will consult on the proposed adoption of the Model Code of Practice - Managing psychosocial risks at work. Although it is not yet approved in NT, the Model Code provides businesses with a useful, practical reference for workplaces where people may be exposed to psychological hazards.

In addition, there are various resources available to assist PCBUs in maintaining mentally healthy workplaces and meeting their WHS obligations.

Safe Work Australia's National guidance material:

To find out more, contact HIA's Contracts and Compliance team

Email us

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