Persistent Challenges - Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023-2033

Managing psychosocial risks

Psychosocial hazards, such as high work demands, low job support, and harmful behaviours, create risks of physical and psychological harm. On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work. Managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards not only protects workers, it also decreases the disruption associated with staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity. Improvement in this area requires PCBUs to understand and meet their duties. Workers and communities also need to understand WHS duties, and to expect PCBUs to prevent work-related psychological injury.

Health and safety vulnerability

PCBUs must consider the needs of all workers in designing safe systems of work. This includes ensuring policies are in place that support increasing worker awareness, training on WHS hazards, and building knowledge of their WHS rights and responsibilities. Worker empowerment to participate in and be consulted about injury and illness prevention is of critical importance in identifying and controlling WHS risks.

Particular working conditions, arrangements and personal characteristics compound WHS risks for workers, putting them at greater risk of work-related illness, injury or death than others performing the same work, in the same environment.

Factors known to affect workers’ WHS vulnerability include being younger, working alone, being from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background or working in a more complex contractual chain (e.g. labour hire).

The structural factors that may lead these workers to being more vulnerable than others include:

  • Lack of WHS capability development: It can be more difficult for workers who have limited experience in Australian workplaces or who are working in a more complex working arrangement to readily access, understand and implement health and safety knowledge.
  • Insufficient support: Some workers may hesitate to raise health and safety issues because of a power imbalance, and/or discrimination and stigma attached to raising WHS issues.
  • Ineffective communication: One size fits all communication approaches by PCBUs and/or a lack of suitable supervisory support can expose workers to unacceptable workplace risks. This is particularly significant since CALD and migrant workers are over-represented in high-risk industries and occupations, including the agricultural, health care and social assistance sectors.

Small businesses need additional support

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, in 2018–19, small businesses made up 97% of all Australian businesses and employed 4.7 million workers. Almost half of the employees (43%) in those industries with higher rates of injury work in small businesses.

However, due to their size, small business owners may have fewer resources to dedicate to understanding WHS requirements and ensuring the health and safety of their workers. Managing WHS risks does not need to be costly or complicated and can assist businesses to operate more efficiently and productively. Succinct and easy to understand information and advice combined with strategies to better reach and engage these PCBUs will improve WHS skills and capacity and enhance health and safety outcomes for small businesses. Identifying key influencers for small business and delivering tailored education and guidance to better promote the benefits of investing in WHS will help small businesses meet their duty to ensure safe and healthy work and workplaces.