New legislation prioritises workers’ mental health, but how will providers comply?

Published on 22 March 2023 (Last updated on 4 April 2023)

Amendments to work health and safety (WHS) laws to include regulations on managing psychosocial risks and hazards at work will come into effect next month and aged care providers and those in management roles are expected to know how to implement these changes on the ground. 

The new Work Health and Safety Amendment (Managing Psychosocial Risk and Other Measures) Regulations, which come into effect on April 1, provide a framework for proper person-centred management. It will make aged care providers, as well as individual members of management, responsible for offering more support to overworked aged care workers. Providers may also be liable for incidents spurred by non-compliance. 

WHS obligations have typically been centred around the physical aspects of safety, but now more than ever, we are cognizant of the importance of caring for workers’ mental health and well-being concurrently. 

This new legislation prioritises the psychological health of staff and prompts providers and management teams to have those difficult or ‘courageous conversations’ with staff.

NB Employment Law Director, Jonathan Mamaril, is helping businesses navigate the new legislation and said it offers aged care providers standardised management expectations.

“[The new legislation] gives a good understanding of what good management and good leadership are,” Mr Mamaril said.

“This legislation requires reasonable steps to be taken by providers and management officers to eliminate or minimise those psychological health risks by just touching base, increasing communication and having a bit more of a process.”

As the new regulations come into play, it’s essential that you know what to look out for in terms of psychosocial hazards. This is what you need to know.

Types of psychosocial hazards

There are three types of psychosocial hazards:

  • Interpersonal conflicts – such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and staff making complaints against each other
  • personal issues – personal issues seeping into the workplace such as divorce, issues at home and health issues
  • The work, duties and tasks themselves 

In order to comply with the new legislation, providers and individual management officers will need to mitigate and reduce the risks surrounding these issues.

An example of how a psychosocial hazard could develop can be seen in staff who work in high-intensity areas of your business, such as handling complaints.

The role poses a potential for becoming a psychosocial hazard due to the exposure to conflict and hostility, particularly if they do it for a long period of time with no debriefing.

If an interpersonal conflict or a personal issue occurs while doing this work, the employee could potentially be psychologically impacted and snap. This could cause regulatory problems and thus, commercial problems. 

But in a time where reform and a lack of resources are rife in the sector, the difficulty of this task has not fallen on deaf ears. 

“This is where we potentially have a lot of problems because the work itself almost needs to be assessed as a whole, not just commercially, but also in terms of risk. Then how do you control some of that risk?” Mr Mamaril explained.

“So the optimal solution might be hiring some new staff members, you touch base with them regularly, you might have other staff members easing some of the workloads – it could be a mix of solutions.

“What this legislation is doing is forcing employers and providers, as well as those in management positions, to actually undertake that assessment.”

The impact on aged care

This new legislation follows a slew of changes at both the executive and care levels of aged care, adding what some providers may feel is extra pressure to strict compliance rules.

But strengthening your employees’ sense of value and actively showing both their physical and mental well-being is important to you helps them stay happy at work.

Though, the challenges the sector face can’t be ignored, and management training to handle psychosocial hazards and properly engage with staff are paramount to keep providers compliant.

As individual managers can be liable in some instances, it is your responsibility as their employer to arm them with the proper tools to help roll this legislation out properly.

“When things are going really well, the workplace is humming and everyone’s happy and you’re happy, it’s very easy to take these steps. But what about when things are a little bit more difficult? What if there are deadlines? What if there are more clients than staff?” Mr Mamaril questioned.

“That’s the important part because that’s where trigger points are most likely going to be. 

“So it’s very important for people managers to be across this to understand, not only just the risk but also the steps they probably have to take to placate that risk.”

Getting your policies and processes in check

Viewing HR and WHS as separate departments is becoming a thing of the past. 

Reviewing both your HR and WHS processes and policies in accordance with this new legislation can help you uniform the two departments to work together in tandem to ensure incidents and their subsequent actions are handled appropriately.

This is where having a legal understanding of what is expected of you and your management staff and knowing where your policies may be lacking is advantageous. 

“WHS really look at it from a health and safety compliance, which is great. But this legislation, in particular, will need to dovetail with the people and culture (HR) team because there are potential elements of other things, such as worker’s compensation, that’ll probably link to this,” said Mr Mamaril.

“Depending on the actions taken by the employer, it could turn into an unfair dismissal case, or something like that as well.

“HR and WHS working together and having a good understanding of the particular risks alleviate these risks and therefore alleviate liability for the provider as well as themselves individually.”

Get familiar with the Code of Practice 

Each Australian State and Territory has a Code of Practice that has been put in place for psychological and psychosocial risks. 

You should familiarise yourself with your State or Territory’s code via its relevant WSH regulator.

While all the codes are relatively similar, Victoria’s code has an extra reportable element.This means if an incident occurs from a psychosocial hazard, it needs to be reported just like any other physical injury.

You can find your State or Territory’s Code of Practice through its WHS regulator website.

The aged care sector has seen many changes and expectations being placed on it in recent years, and this new legislation will add another aspect to consider to the list. 

But in a sector that is struggling to employ and keep valuable staff, strengthening their safety nets at work plays a part in making them feel valued and respected. 

Offering a standardised guideline to manage psychological and psychosocial risks, the legislation merges with preexisting good practice among providers to bring the sector up to scratch and valuable workers in their roles to care for our older people.

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psychological hazards
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Work Health and Safety Amendment
Managing Psychosocial Risk and Other Measures'
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