In brief - The Code of Practice and Work Health and Safety Regulations have recently introduced the need to identify and manage psychosocial hazards in your workplace.

This new wave of safety requirements is presently being implemented in most states and territories across Australia. Your business will need to take active steps to undertake this risk-based process for psychosocial hazards, which include bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. 

In Victoria, in October 2022, WorkSafe published articles advising all employers to identify and manage psychosocial hazards at their workplaces. Further, WorkSafe is utilising the existing safety laws to deal with sexual harassment, ( a psychosocial hazard), in the workplace.

WorkSafe Victoria has just published a media release advising that WorkSafe has charged a Director, a Worker and two companies for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act), following multiple allegations of sexual harassment of young workers at hospitality outlets at two Melbourne hospitals. The criminal prosecutions are listed for mention in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

The following states and territories have or are about to implement the new Code of Practice, 'Managing the Risk of Psychosocial Hazards at Work':

Queensland: Commencing 1 April 2023

New South Wales: Commenced 1 October 2022

Northern Territory: Commencing 1 July 2023

Western Australia: Commenced in January 2023 

Tasmania: Commenced on 4 January 2023

Commonwealth: Commenced in April 2022

What is a psychosocial hazard?

The Code of Practice states that a psychosocial hazard can be:

  • Challenging work hours, shift work or working fly in fly out for many years

  • Low job control, poor support or low reward and recognition

  • Remote or isolated work or poor environmental conditions

  • Violence and Aggression and Traumatic events

  • Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Harassment.

What does my business need to do to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace?

Every person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is required to conduct a risk assessment to identify and manage the psychosocial hazards and risks in their business.

It is recommended that the following steps be taken:

  1. Communicate and consult with your workforce regarding the below process

  2. Conduct a risk assessment, which will consider any past psychosocial claims, bullying and harassment investigations, worker exit interviews and current appropriate workplace behaviour policies to determine the reasonably practicable control measures suitable for your business and industry

  3. Review and refresh bullying and harassment and sexual harassment policies;

  4. Retrain all workers, contractors and other persons in the updated appropriate behaviour policies

  5. Review and update the policies and training in twelve months' time.

If the business operates across state borders, the WHS Regulation and Code of Practice in each state should be reviewed and the reasonably practicable control measures should be set at the highest standard.

Taking the above steps will avoid facing the criminal courts and assist your personnel to create a safe workplace for workers, contractors and visitors. 

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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