How can OHS professionals best manage psychosocial risks?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 12 August, 2021 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

There has been a significant increase in legislative and regulatory activity around psychosocial risks, including proposed legislative changes as well as guidance material being released by WHS regulators, according to Australia’s largest law firm.

In light of this, there has been a positive shift in organisations starting to think about mental health at work and taking positive steps to effect change as a WHS issue and engaging directly with HR colleagues, said Deanna McMaster, a partner at MinterEllison.

“Historically, many organisations have primarily dealt with psychosocial risks as HR issues,” she said.

“It is fair to say that the last few years has seen some developments in WHS legal frameworks in relation to bullying, harassment and sexual harassment but more work is required.”

McMaster also said OHS professionals are “absolutely key” to supporting organisations to manage psychosocial risk and prepare for upcoming changes.

“Building relationships with HR colleagues and educating them on the WHS issues in this area will be important over the coming 12 months,” said McMaster.

“OHS professionals will also be key in developing and improving the reporting on psychosocial risks within organisations, including the reporting that goes to Boards and executives.”

McMaster observed mental health as a WHS issue is a new concept, but a rapidly evolving area which requires every organisation to pivot effectively.

“OHS professionals know best how to manage safety issues within the organisation and in compliance with the law so they can and should play a crucial role in this transition,” she said.

McMaster also observed the two most common related issues are building a bridge between the HR and WHS systems and personnel to manage these issues, as well as educating Boards and executives on the proactive role they must take as officers to exercise due diligence in relation to psychosocial risks.

However, there are steps OHS professionals can take to address these issues, she said: “ensure that Board and executives are up-to-date on the legal and regulatory requirements, and are receiving due diligence reporting on psychosocial matters.”

It is also important to ensure HR and WHS teams work together to manage psychosocial risks and that the HR and WHS systems communicate with one another.

“For example, WHS regulators have begun to ask about grievance type issues traditionally only managed by HR teams, as well as exit survey results,” said McMaster.