Prevent and manage risk of mental injury in healthcare and social assistance

How to identify psychological hazards and implement effective risk management processes.

Shape

Overview

How this helps your business

Every Victorian worker should return home safely every day. Being safe at work includes mental health and wellbeing.

Workplaces that support the mental health of their staff have more successful businesses, their staff perform better, are happier, and stay in their jobs for longer. They also take fewer days off work.

Knowing the mental health risks in your workplace means you can work towards removing them.

Similarly, when employees feel physically safe they enjoy their jobs more, perform better, and are more committed to their employer. While physical hazards are present in all workplaces, staff in your industry have one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. Regular 'manual handling' such as lifting and moving of people is a key contributor to this rate of injury.

Keeping records of any safety issues, the level of risk, and how you are addressing them, shows your employees that you take their safety seriously. Keeping detailed records also helps with managing occupational health and safety over time.

Physical injuries can also have an effect on mental health. The more support your employees have for both their physical and mental health and safety, the more likely they are to seek help for issues and return to work after an incident.

Key stats and facts


17,795  

worker's compensation claims per year for serious illness or injury in the healthcare and social assistance sector.

Safe Work Australia, 2018, Priority industry snapshot: Healthcare and social assistance


28%  

of healthcare injury claims in 2010-15 were lodged by personal carers and assistants. 

Safe Work Australia, 2017, Serious claims in healthcare

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

A mentally safe workplace is one that employees look forward to attending and is supportive of each other and their individual needs.

There are a number of factors that contribute to a mentally healthy workplace, one where employees will strive:

  • Work demands (emotional, mental, physical) are managed well- employees are given enough time to do the tasks and responsibilities assigned to them. When employees are physically safe it is much easier to feel mentally safe.
  • Control over work- employees are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made.
  • Supportive environment- co-workers and managers care about employees' mental health concerns. If someone needs support or if something traumatic happens, co-workers and managers respond appropriately.
  • Roles are clear- employees know what they need to do, where their work fits in with the rest of the organisation, and whether there are any changes coming up.
  • Relationships are positive- there is trust, honesty and fairness in the workplace. Employees enjoy and feel connected to their work and they feel motivated to do their job well.
  • Change is managed well- employees are involved in discussion about change.
  • Courteous and respectful- people at work are respectful and considerate to each other, as well as with customers, suppliers and public.

Refer to the WorkSafe guide below for a more detailed explanation of organisational factors, and guidance on how to conduct mental health risk assessments in the workplace.

Step 2

Consult your staff

Having conversations about mental health at work is important to understand the mental health risks in your workplace. Having these discussions in a non-judgmental way helps you build trust within your team.

To make this work, senior leadership commitment is crucial. This commitment can be shown through:

  • demonstrating that the senior leadership, including the board, CEO and senior leaders are dealing with mental health risks
  • asking staff to be part of the team identifying, assessing and coming up with solutions for mental health risks
  • communicating and consulting with all levels of the organisation regarding mental health risks

Helping people understand the organisational factors that help create mentally healthy workplaces listed in Step 1 is a good starting point. Including mental health risk as part of an organisation's overall enterprise risk management system will also help to embed thinking about mental health in the same way as physical risks within your business. Encouraging discussion on how creating a mentally healthy workplace is good for business.

There are many ways you can talk with your staff about mental health risks in your workplace, including:

  • Conduct focus groups to identify the needs and risks within specific work groups of your workplace. A skilled internal or external facilitator can support staff to focus attention on the organisational risk factors in your workplace. See the People at Work guide below for some hints on running effective focus groups
  • Have one-on-one discussions with your managers and staff
  • Note mental health risks as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be discussions in staff meetings or through other organisation communication channels
  • Discuss when you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
  • Get feedback through your health and safety representatives
  • Find out through your health and safety committees
  • Discuss in your leadership meetings
  • Run workplace mental health and wellbeing forums inviting champions to be on a panel to stimulate conversations in your workplace

The WorkSafe Consultation guide gives you practical ideas about how to engage with your staff on a range of health and safety issues, including mental health in the workplace.

The Beyond Blue training module is a good resource that can be shared with your managers to help them understand mental health risks. It takes about 20-30 minutes to complete and includes:

  • what organisational factors contribute to work-related stress
  • actions to effectively manage work-related stress
  • the different roles and responsibilities of people in the workplace

Step 3

Consider a steering committee

A mental health steering committee is a good way to make sure management of mental health risks is led from the senior ranks in your organisation, and helps to embed mental health management into daily business. A mental health steering committee may include individuals in senior management positions and strategic areas of the organisation, such as human resources, workplace health and safety, communications and leaders responsible for operational areas. A steering committee could include a 'risk to mental health champion' who heads the committee and gives momentum to addressing mental health in your workplace. The most effective champions are senior decision makers and influencers in your organisation.

The purpose of a mental health steering committee is to:

  • oversee the mental health risk management process
  • make sure there is engagement with senior management
  • provide tangible evidence of management support for addressing mental health risks, and make sure recommendations for change are implemented genuinely and strategically
  • ensure consultation happens across your organisation

Step 4

Identify the risks

Identifying mental health risks in your workplace may take some time as you need to build trust with your staff.

By keeping a record of mental health injuries, complaints and issues as they come up, you will be able to identify some of the mental health risks in your workplace. Patterns within the records should form your starting point for developing solutions to stop these complaints and injuries happening again. Records can be managed as part of your injury recording system, but need to be kept confidential.

Look at what is happening in your workplace, and think about what factors could affect how mentally safe your workplace is. In addition to your data collection, some areas where you might focus to find useful information include:

  • how much work people are getting done (especially if productivity goes down)
  • inspecting the workplace to see how work is carried out, noting any rushing, delays or work backlog
  • peak and seasonal demands
  • leadership skills and effectiveness
  • rates of absenteeism
  • staff turnover (how often staff resign)
  • exit interviews
  • staff engagement and morale. You can do this through formal engagement surveys, but also by being aware of how people treat each other during work activities.
  • customer feedback
  • incidents such as occupational violence and aggression
  • employee complaint reports
  • worker's compensation records
  • use of surveys to get feedback from your staff, team leaders and managers. For Victorian public sector organisations, you can use the results of your People Matters Survey.

WorkSafe has guidance on a range of workplace hazards. You can search by topic to find strategies to address risks your staff have raised. Occupational violence, bullying and fatigue are examples of risks that may be relevant for your workplace based on your industry. You can also visit the dedicated page for your industry to get information about common mental health hazards.

Step 5

Assess the risks

A risk assessment tool is a useful way to understand more about the risks to mental health in your workplace and to help you manage these risks. Use the WorkSafe Victoria 'Work-related stress prevention risk management worksheet' and modify to suit your workplace. The first column in the worksheet has a list to get you started - tick those that are relevant for your workplace and add any others that you have identified through this step.

To complete column 2 of the 'Work-related stress prevention risk-management worksheet' you will need to assess the risks. Your assessment might take into consideration:

  • how staff will be exposed to a mental health risk (such as an abusive client or a traumatic incident)
  • how often and for how long staff are exposed to a mental health risk (for example, whether risk builds up over time or happens in a single incident)
  • how likely it is that someone's mental health will be harmed if the risk isn't managed
  • what potential harm is likely to be experienced and who will be harmed if the risk isn’t managed.

The 'People at Work Survey action planning guide' provides some tips and examples on how to prioritise and develop action plans to manage mental health risks in your workplace.

Step 6

Manage the risks

After identifying what factors might present the greatest risks to the mental health of your staff, you need to take steps to manage these risks.

You may be familiar with the 'Hierarchy of Control' for managing physical risks in your workplace where the most effective action is to eliminate the risk altogether. If this is not practical then the next most effective control is to reduce the risk, for example altering the environment to ensure appropriate placement of clients/patients with specialty behavioural needs in specific wards or sections of your workplace. The least effective controls rely on people changing. For example, attendance at training sessions to cope better with the hazard or the use of personal protective equipment. For mental health risks, the same hierarchy of control principles apply.

It is more likely that you will be successful in managing risks to mental health if:

  • your staff can see that your workplace and management are committed to mental health and wellbeing
  • staff are able to have their say on what they think the mental health risks are in your workplace
  • you get input from staff on how to manage the risks you find
  • there is an action plan clearly stating what will be done, by when and who will be responsible for each item
  • you always aim to identify the root cause of mental health issues in your workplace and eliminate these

Now complete column 3 of the 'Work-related stress prevention risk management worksheet' on how you will control the risks to mental health in your workplace. Some examples include:

  • working on developing a culture that is respectful and positive
  • planning workloads to make sure staff are not being given more than they can do in the time they have
  • giving staff more freedom to control when and how they do different tasks
  • making sure staff know exactly what is expected of them, and how their performance will be judged
  • updating human resource procedures to make sure everyone knows what their tasks are
  • offering help to staff who might need it (e.g. an employee assistance program, peer support or lists of local counselling services)
  • letting staff know who they should speak to if they have concerns about their job demands or their level of control in their job
  • checking staff understand any upcoming changes in your workplace, and know what they are expected to do
  • encouraging staff to speak up early if there are problems so they can get the support they need
  • addressing psychosocial risks such as occupational violence and aggression or bullying
  • giving your managers and team leaders the knowledge and skills to support their staff, for example by coaching, mentoring or training

The WorkSafe Victoria guide as included in step 1 gives you more detail about how to address the organisational factors that can impact mental health in workplaces.

Step 7

Review and keep improving

The final step to managing mental health risks is to review how you are going and make sure the controls you have put in place are making a difference.

Work with your teams to set short-term and long-term goals and then schedule dates to systematically review your data and keep asking 'how can we do this better?'.

You'll also need to regularly review your risk assessment to address any new risks that may have emerged.

Developing a positive health and safety culture throughout all levels of your organisation will help you move towards mental health risk management as being 'business as usual'.

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