Update: NSW Work Health and Safety Regulation amended to require management of psychosocial risks

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Businesses in NSW are now explicitly required to manage psychosocial risks to worker health and safety, as part of the increasing push to address mental health in the workplace.

Changes to the NSW Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (WHS Regulation), which took effect on 1 October 2022, enshrine into law the obligations already set out in the Code of Practice on Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work (Code), introduced by SafeWork NSW last year. If employers had already been complying with the Code, these changes to the WHS Regulation should not require a huge adjustment.

Overview of the new requirements for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs)

Under the "psychosocial risk" provisions of the WHS Regulation, PCBUs must implement control measures to:

  • eliminate psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable, and
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, to minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable.

A psychosocial risk is a risk to the health or safety of a worker or other person arising from a "psychosocial hazard".

A psychosocial hazard is any hazard that may cause psychological harm and which arises from, or relates to:

  • the design or management of work, or
  • a work environment, or
  • plant at a workplace, or
  • workplace interactions or behaviours.

The Code provides examples of common psychosocial hazards, which include:

  • role overload (high workloads or job demands) or role underload (low workloads or job demands)
  • poor support from supervisors, managers and co-workers
  • role conflict, lack of role clarity, and low job control
  • inadequate reward and recognition
  • exposure to traumatic events
  • conflict or poor workplace relationships between workers
  • bullying, harassment (including sexual harassment) and workplace violence
  • poor procedural justice (processes for making decisions)
  • hazardous physical working environments, and
  • remote or isolated work, arising from the location, time or nature of the job.

How should PCBUs manage psychosocial risks moving forward?

The WHS Regulation does not prescribe what control measures employers should implement to eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks, as these will differ depending on the workplace. Control measures may apply to the entire organisation or be specific to a worker.

That said, PCBUs are expected to consider all relevant matters when determining what control measures to implement, which include the following:

  • the duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers to the psychosocial hazards
  • the interaction between different psychosocial hazards
  • the design of the work, including job demands and tasks
  • the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
  • the design, layout and environmental conditions of the workplace, including whether workers safely enter and exit the workplace and there are facilities in place 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.

The bottom line is that PCBUs should always be cognisant of how the workplace can contribute to the poor psychological health of workers and take all reasonably practicable steps to prevent those risks from manifesting.

To practically achieve this, you should consider:

  • regularly reviewing workloads and allocated tasks to ensure workers are not overworked or underworked, are provided sufficient support and training when undertaking difficult tasks, are given clarity on the requirements of their role, and are performing tasks based on their skill, experience and workload
  • ensuring new workers have a thorough induction and adequate training so they feel confident to perform their role
  • providing ongoing training to supervisors on how to appropriately manage performance discussions, provide feedback to team members, and share responsibilities equitably among team members
  • consistently and fairly applying organisational policies and procedures, work allocations and managing job performance
  • keeping lines of communication between management and workers open and transparent to build trust with workers, instil confidence in escalation processes, and resolve issues between workers quickly
  • ensuring there is a support system in place for workers who are regularly exposed to traumatic or emotionally-intense situations, or are regularly interacting with aggressive third parties such as customers
  • conducting culture surveys to better understand staff satisfaction or happiness levels and identify areas for improvement across the organisation with respect to the employee experience, and
  • regularly engaging with at-risk groups to determine whether they need additional support.

For more information on how your organisation can comply with these obligations, please contact a member of our Workplace Relations & Safety team.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

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