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Psychosocial Safety in the Workplace: Taking a Risk Management Approach

21 October 2019

Psychological work health safety today

Everyone reserves the right to work in a safe physical and psychological environment. We live in a society where psychosocial safety in the workplace is now a duty of care for those in leadership roles. Attitudes to psychological injuries that occur at work are now taken as seriously as physical incidents.

Safe Work Australia’s national guidance report on work-related psychological health and safety provides insights into different attitudes towards physical versus psychological injury. The evidence is that psychological injury and psychosocial safety is far more complex and requires higher levels of individual support.

Thankfully, stigmas towards psychological issues and psychosocial factors are now changing for the better. In the work environment, leaders are becoming more passionate about supporting those suffering with high levels of stress, anxiety or depression. However, challenges remain, and cases must be looked at individually to avoid unconscious bias.

Asking workers what they think and feel about stress as early prevention is a key factor in reducing absenteeism and supporting recovery.

Stress itself does not equate to a physical or psychological injury. A stress response is the physical, mental and emotional reaction that occurs when a worker feels that the demands of their work exceeds their ability to cope. Work related stress, if prolonged and/or severe, can cause both psychological and physical injury.

The main culprits of psychosocial injury are anxiety stress disorder, depressive symptoms and reactions to stressors. Workplace bullying is the most common cause of psychological injury, followed by work-related pressure and exposure to trauma. Technologies provide access to many work tools outside of regular working hours and this can also be a considerable stress factor for employees. Additionally, concerns over job loss and additional workloads at short notice can be significant factors too.

Psychosocial safety & workplace wellbeing considerations

When it comes to best practice, there are many factors to consider to drive positive outcomes for those with psychological issues and to promote psychosocial safety in the workplace. What are the common hazards? Building awareness and including areas for improvement is not limited to the following, yet should include;

  • Support – is it clear where individuals can go for help?
  • Informational – what, if any information, is available to individuals so they know there is help in times of need?
  • Emotional – identifying where individuals are behaving differently or isolating themselves could be a red flag.
  • Poor working relationships and company culture – a lack of social connectivity directly links to health and when the environment is toxic, it can lead to further related stresses and an onset of poor ongoing mental health.
  • Bullying and harassment – Beyond Blue research reports that workplace bullying is estimated to cost Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year.

Factors that drive poor physical and psychological health:

  • Continuous, highly repetitive or monotonous tasks are high risk.
  • High demands and low job control is likely to result in job strain and decrease employee engagement.
  • High responsibility without control is a high risk for job strain.
  • Employer response times and supportiveness will have a direct result on positive or negative outcomes.
  • Perceptions around employer support and fairness should be made clear, if not this is a major occupational health hazard.

Keep support going and champion psychosocial safety in the workplace

Work health safety professor, Maureen Dollard and psychologist, Tessa Bailey from the University of South Australia, state that a workplace with a high psychosocial safety climate (PSC) will have a policy and procedures that actively manage risk factors. These procedures will help to shape jobs where demands are manageable, and resources are adequate.

In their psychosocial safety climate framework, they detail that organisational leaders should have clear methods to actively promote and protect worker mental health. They also mentioned that individuals need to be encouraged to use tools for wellbeing such as flexible working arrangements, as well as being comfortable reporting bullying and harassment. Communication about preventing stress should be clear and psychosocial safety risks need to be regularly discussed at company wide meetings.

With a risk managed approach, workplace health should form a large part of your early prevention duties.  Iron out confusion around what needs to be done at the very least to remain compliant as this area of support evolves. Explore what best practice looks like as well as establishing the main psychosocial safety conditions. Put controls in place and monitor effectiveness.

What are you doing to encourage an open line of communication with individuals and to promote a culture of psychosocial work health safety? If you want to be an empowered learner in the prevention of bullying and harassment in your organisation, take advantage of Kineo’s pre-built course library and the free 14-day course trial that includes several related workplace titles.

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