Creating a mentally healthy workplace

Keeping your employees safe from psychological harm

Good work can be good for your employee’s mental health and wellbeing, providing them with structure and purpose, a sense of identity and increase feeling of self-worth. However, there are circumstances where the work environment can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing, leading to adverse outcomes for both the individuals and your business.  

A report that was handed down by the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission in November 2020, estimated that individuals with mental ill-health average up to 12 days more of absenteeism per year and up to 18 days of reduced productivity, costing workplaces an estimated AU$17 billion every year (not including workers compensation claims)[1].

When you also consider that nearly half of all Australians are likely to experience a mental health condition at same stage in their life, the need to address mental health in the workplace has never been more important. [2]

As a result of the rising costs and worsening mental health status of Australian workplaces, State Ministers have committed to introducing regulations that will elevate psychological health and safety in the workplace to the same level as physical health and safety.

These regulations will require you to identify and manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace, the same as you must for physical hazards.

What are Psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards in the workplace are aspects in the design or management of work that may cause a stress response, which in turn can lead to psychological or physical harm. These will vary for every workplace; however, some common psychosocial hazards include:

  • high or low job demand,
  • poor support from managers, supervisors and/or colleagues,
  • conflict or poor workplace relationships,
  • exposure to traumatic events,
  • bullying,
  • harassment, including sexual harassment,
  • violence and aggression,
  • low job control,
  • exposure to poor quality or hazardous working environments, and
  • remote or isolated work.

It’s important to note that the risk of work-related stress increases when psychosocial hazards combine and act together. It is likely that your employees will be exposed to multiple hazards at any one time, so you should not consider your hazards isolation.

Managing psychosocial hazards and risks at your workplace

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 outlines that a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a primary duty to ensure the physical and psychological health and safety of its workers, so far as reasonably practicable.

The Safework Australia Work-related psychological health and safety National guidance material, 2019[3] identifies identify a systematic four-step process that, as an employer, you should take to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace, the same as you would for any other health and safety risk. The four steps are:

1. IDENTIFY the psychosocial hazard

This involves identifying the aspects of work and situations that could potentially cause harm to people (examples listed above) and why these may be occurring.

This can be done by observing and talking to workers about work activities, and systematically collecting and reviewing available information and data, such as

  • workforce or culture surveys,
  • absenteeism, turnover, sick leave data and workers’ compensation claims,
  • incidents reports,
  • complaints and investigations into alleged harmful workplace behaviours,
  • staff skills and experience profiles,
  • analysis of work tasks, schedules, and locations, and
  • WHS and human resources systems, policies, and procedures.

2. ASSESS and prioritise the psychosocial hazards and risks

One you have identified what your hazards and risks are, the next step is to conduct a risk assessment. This will help you to determine the seriousness of the risks, who is most affected by them, what controls are currently being used, how effective they are, what controls could be used to reduce the risk(s) to the lowest practical level, and the priority for action.

SafeWork Australia says some common ways that this can be done include:

  • consulting with workers and their HSRs,
  • using information from focus groups, interviews, and de-identified surveys, and
  • reviewing your organisation’s records.

3. CONTROL psychosocial hazards and risks

Once you have identified and assessed your psychosocial hazards and risks, control measures need to be put in place to eliminate or minimize the risk as much as possible. Depending on what your workplace’s hazards and risks are, control measures can be implemented by way of:

  • Good work design, including specifying and organising jobs and tasks of workgroups or individual workers to be less hazardous,
  • Safe systems of work, including organisational rules, policies, procedures, and work practices that must be developed and followed, and
  • Information, training, instruction, or supervision.

4. Proactively implement, maintain, monitor, and REVIEW the effectiveness of controls

Once any control measures have been implemented, clear accountabilities need to be allocated for regularly monitoring, maintaining, and reviewing their ongoing effectiveness. Some controls may not always remain suitable, sufficient, and effective over time.

There are several occasions when reviews should occur, including:

  • before significant organisational or workplace changes occur,
  • when a new hazard or risk is identified,
  • if a serious incident, injury, or illness occurs,
  • if the hazard changes
  • if the risk is not being adequately minimised, or
  • at agreed review dates.

How to get started

We know that the changes to WHS regulations sound intimidating, and that working out what you need to do to comply will be a challenge.  

Therefore, Healthy Business have been working with our current clients, as well as discussing these changes broadly across industries, providing the following general tips to help workplace get started:

  • It’s a journey - Your organisation does not have to suddenly become the gold standard overnight. However, you do need to be able to demonstrate (and of course, follow through) that you are working to identify, assess, review, and control your risk factors.
  • Build on your current WHS policies and procedures. Integrate psychosocial safety within your organisation’s existing safety structures. Your current WHS policies and procedures mean the concepts of safety and risk are familiar, and these procedures are already imbedded within present work practices and accountabilities.
  • Focus on safety management – you don’t have to be a psychologist.
  • Consultation with your workforce - and make sure you follow up with action!
  • Identifying and assessing psychosocial risks without acting on them is almost worse than doing nothing. It may not be rocket science; many psychosocial risks are obvious and can be addressed through management competencies, for example, by redesigning business functions or individual roles. And lastly,
  • There are many positives of better health and wellbeing. As demonstrated in the Productivity Commission report finding on absenteeism and productivity, addressing your psychosocial hazards and risks to create a mentally healthy workplace is good for your people and your business.

Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you to navigate psychosocial risk management process to build and maintain a mentally healthy workplace.


1. Australian Government Productivity Commission 2020, Productivity Commission inquiry report: Mental health volume 2, <>

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007, National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2007, <>

3. SafeWork Austrlia, Work-related psychological health and safety, A systematic approach to meeting your duties, National guidance material, JANUARY 2019

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