In Brief - Once a psychosocial hazard is identified, an employer should assess the level of risk it poses, the likelihood or severity of its consequences, and available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk. 

Assessing a psychosocial hazard

Where the risk of a psychosocial hazard or accepted control measures of that hazard are not established, a PCBU should undertake a risk assessment, outlined on page 23 of the Managing the Risk of Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice.

A risk assessment for impacted workers might consider a range of issues, including:

  1. the duration which workers are exposed to the hazard(s); 

  2. the frequency which workers are exposed to the hazard(s); 

  3. the severity of their exposure to the hazard(s); and 

  4. how different identified hazards might interact and increase risk.

During the risk assessment process, a PCBU must consult with workers, other duty holders and health and safety representatives where elected: see sections 47, 48 and 49 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

An example of a psychosocial risk assessment tool issued by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland can be found here.

Controlling a psychosocial hazard

Once a PCBU has identified a psychosocial hazard, it must determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement in the circumstances.

Section 4 of the Work Health and Safety (Psychosocial Risks) Amendment Regulation 2022, introduces a new section, 55D to the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHS Regulation) (in force from 1 April 2023) that requires PCBU's to implement control measures to manage psychosocial risks. 

An objective should always be to eliminate the risk first. If that is not possible, it may be appropriate to minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable. This may be done by: 

  1. substituting the hazardous environment/task with one that poses less risk; 

  2. isolating the hazard to avoid exposure to any person; 

  3. controlling the hazard with a form of physical or engineering control.

Under section 55D of the WHS Regulation, when determining what control measures to implement, a PCBU must have regard to all relevant matters, including but not limited to: 

  1. the duration, frequency or severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to psychosocial;

  2. the design of work, including job demands and tasks; 

  3. the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported; 

  4. the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.

The requirement to undertake a risk assessment to identify hazards, assess the risks and implement the reasonably practicable controls was discussed in the decision of Reynolds v Tailored Adventures Pty Ltd, [2019] QDC 150, where the District Court of Queensland, held

"The respondent failed at the first step of the risk management process, that is to identify the hazard. Without identification of the hazard the risk was not managed."

Tailored adventures entered a plea of guilty to breaching the duty to ensure health and safety, pursuant to the Work Health and Safety Act of QLD, when a customer riding the Treetops Challenge zip line, on Tamborine Mountain, collided with a tree when the braking system failed to activate.

If you have any questions about what you might reasonably be doing to control hazards in your workplace or arising from your business or undertaking, please contact us. 

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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