Prevent work-related mental injury by controlling risks and hazards.
The WorkWell Toolkit provides
Practical step by step ideas, tips and suggestions to help employers of different sizes prevent mental injury and create a safe and mentally healthy workplace. Use tools, templates and resources to focus on work-related factors that impact mental health and learn good practice. Check out the full range of topics on the Toolkit.
Learn about the process for preventing mental injuries
The saying goes, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'.
The same can be said for preventing the risk of work-related mental injuries. While it can be tempting to offer short term solutions like yoga and a fruit bowl, this won't prevent harm or mental injuries from occurring again. The best approach is to address the cause of the injuries.
The process is easier than you might think, and involves applying four key steps:
Step 1: Identify the 'thing' or situation in the workplace that could cause harm e.g. exposure to violence and/or aggression, bullying, sexual harassment.
Step 2: Consider how likely it is that harm might actually occur as a result.
Step 3: Put measures in place to stop or reduce harm from occurring.
Step 4: Check to see if that measure is working.
Technically, this is called a 'risk management process' and using OHS language, it looks like:
Step 1: Identify the hazards and risks.
Step 2: Assess the risks.
Step 3: Control the risks.
Step 4: Monitor and review risk control measures.
These are the same steps you can apply to preventing both physical and mental injuries. So no matter the problem, the process is the same! Throughout this process, employers must also consult with employees. It is so important that you’ll see it as the first step below.
This Toolkit topic will take you step-by-step through this risk management process with helpful links for even more information.
Consult your employees
Consultation can be done in a number of ways. It can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee. There's no one right way to do it – and it depends on your workplace.
Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making, and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees who get a better understanding of each other's views.
Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees about matters that directly, or are likely to directly, affect their health and safety. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about an issue, giving reasonable opportunity to share views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration. You must consult with employees when identifying and assessing hazards, and making decisions on how to control the risks, among other things.
To learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult visit the consultation link below.
Step 1: Identify hazards and risks
A 'hazard' is a term that means anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like situations or things in the workplace that can hurt someone, either mentally or physically, and 'risk' is the potential of an injury occurring from exposure to the hazard actually happening.
For example, a physical hazard could be a ladder. The risk is falling from the ladder and becoming physically injured. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health too – these are known as psychosocial hazards. One example of a psychosocial hazard is exposure to violent or traumatic events, and the risk is developing a mental injury as a result such as, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Below is a list of the most common types of psychosocial hazards. To keep it simple, think of these like aspects of work or situations that could impact mental health at work.
High and low job demands occurs when sustained or repeated high or low physical, mental or emotional effort is required to do the job.
High job demands look like long work hours, high workloads and work that is beyond the employee's capability or training. Low job demand looks like highly repetitive or monotonous tasks, or where the worker has been given too little to do within the hours worked.
Where an employee has little control over parts of their work, such as how and when a job is done, or is left out of decision making. They may be micromanaged, or not have a choice when to take breaks.
When people aren't treated fairly, or if there is bias in the workplace about how a process is undertaken. Examples include applying policies inconsistently, unfairness or bias when deciding how work is allocated, hiring or promoting people for reasons that aren't performance or experience related.
A low level of acknowledgement, reward and recognition of employees for their contributions, achievements and efforts. An example is where one team or person is responsible for rolling out a particular project and they are not recognised, and another team or person who had little input is publicly recognised and rewarded.
Includes locations where communication and access to resources is difficult. May include long travel times. Isolated work is where there are no or few people around or where access to help from others, especially in an emergency, may be difficult.
Conduct which exposes an employee to physical and/or verbal abuse, the threat of harm or cause actual harm. Aggression and violence is also closely linked to exposure to trauma as situations and events can be traumatic and require the same attention as exposure to trauma.
Exposure to traumatic material or events is where an employee may be exposed to distressing material or content while at work. For example, an investigator who attends a homicide scene or a lawyer reviewing material from a child exploitation case. Trauma may also affect employees who weren’t there at the time. For some hearing about these events can result in second-hand trauma ('vicarious trauma').
Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of hazards at a time. Some hazards might always be present at work, and they are called 'inherent risks' such as a police officer being exposed to violence or trauma, while others only occasionally. There is a greater risk of injury when these hazards combine and act together, so it's best to look at them in combination, rather than on their own.
The WorkWell Toolkit has detailed information about these individual hazards with specific recommendations for how to address them.
Ask your employees about the hazards they are exposed to.
Understand what they find difficult about managing the hazards.
Explore measures that employees think would better manage the risk, so far as practicable.
Step 2: Assess the risks
Now that you've identified the hazards, the next step is assess what risk they actually create. This is called a 'risk assessment' and it will help you prioritise your efforts to manage them. Remember, some factors work together to increase the risk, while others may be serious enough to present a risk on their own.
Consider how often people are exposed to a certain hazard or group of hazards. For example, is the person exposed to aggression and violence frequently at work. Exposure for a short duration may still be harmful (e.g. where being exposed to a traumatic incident).
Consider how often and for how long employees are exposed to the risk and the potential impact on mental and/or physical health if the risk is not managed.
Step 3: Control the risks
Once you’ve identified the most urgent issues to address through your risk assessment, the next step is to fix them by implementing workplace controls.
A control simply means a ‘way to manage’ an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it’s really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risk.
The way you manage the risk will depend on the type and seriousness of the hazard, and the environment in which you work. The goal is to totally remove the problem, by addressing it at the root cause. This means taking a proactive approach, before the issue can arise. It’s not always possible to completely remove the issue though, so the next best option is to reduce the risk of it happening.
Listed below are examples of common ways to prevent and reduce the risk of mental injuries.
Regularly share and promote desired work behaviours. Workplace leaders should treat mental health as seriously as physical health, and demonstrate that they are committed to addressing psychosocial hazards as a whole business. Highlight what the business has done, or will do, to address the risks.
Inductions should be provided to all employees at the workplace including contractors and regular visitors such as salespeople and clients. During onboarding, discuss acceptable behaviours and refer to relevant Occupational Health and Safety policies and procedures.
What's more, all levels of the business should be trained to prevent and address mental injuries. Training helps managers with starting supportive and constructive conversations.
Encourage employees to report incidents and regularly review and investigate incidents. This may include setting up confidential complaint handling processes and making sure all employees are regularly told about reporting systems and how to make a formal/informal and confidential reports.
A safe and mentally healthy workplace requires ongoing commitment and engagement. Employers should review whether risk control measures are working. A review of risk control measures should occur:
at a regular time (for example, annually)
when feedback indicates risk control measures are not as effective as they should be
when there have been significant changes in the working environment or tasks
after an incident or near miss
The purpose of the review should be to check that the controls you’ve previously implemented are still relevant and working efficiently. If the outcome of the review results in proposed changes, you must consult with employees before making the changes.
This will help keep the conversation going and continue to build trust and cooperation between workers and employers.
If you develop a policy, you should aim to review it at least every twelve months or when new information about a hazard or risk becomes available.
Discover the Toolkit and subscribe to WorkWell
WorkWell supports leaders to create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Access the WorkWell Toolkit for step-by-step tools tailored to your business size, or subscribe to the WorkWell newsletter to stay up to date and receive support direct to your inbox!