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NSW safety laws tighten obligations to address psychosocial hazards in the workplace

Under work health safety legislation, persons conducting a business or undertaking have an obligation to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers while at work.

Under work health safety legislation, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) have an obligation to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers while at work.

There is now no doubt that employees can suffer psychological injuries in the workplace. Safe Work Australia’s report, ‘Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2019-2020’ (the Report) indicates that injuries caused by mental stress constituted 8% of serious claims for the 2019-2020 period (up from 6.3%for the 2016-2017 period). The Report also provides that mental stress claims also have the longest median time lost (at 27 weeks) and the highest median compensation paid (at $46,000).

Given the real risk of injury which may be caused by psychosocial hazards, there has been an increased focus by safety regulators on updating employer obligations to manage hazards and risks in the workplace which may cause psychological injuries.

In May 2021, SafeWork NSW released the Code of Practice for ‘Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work’ (the Code) which provided guidance to employers in relation to common psychosocial hazards and the management of psychosocial hazards and risks in the workplace. This was followed up by the recent amendments to the Work Health Safety Regulation 2017 (WHS Regulation).

The WHS Regulation requires employers in NSW to implement control measures to eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Psychosocial hazards which give rise to risks are defined as hazards which:

(a)  arise from or relates to the design or management of work, or work environment, or plant or workplace interactions or behaviours; and

(b)  may cause psychological harm, whether or not it may also cause physical harm.

The Code identifies common psychosocial hazards to include:

  • high workloads or job demands;  
  • exposure to traumatic events;
  • conflict or poor workplace relationships;
  • poor support from supervisors or managers;
  • bullying;
  • harassment (including sexual harassment);
  • poor procedural justice; or
  • poor consultation of organisational change.

Employers in NSW should now conduct a risk assessment in all their workplaces (and perhaps even down to specific departments and teams) to identify psychosocial risks and implement control measures to control the risks.

Information provided in this news alert is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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