Prevent and manage risk of mental injury in your small business

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



How this helps your business

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

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

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

Key stats and facts


Because Victorians spend around one-third of their time in the workplace, work plays an important role in our health, safety and wellbeing.

TNS, 2014

Employers are legally obligated to give employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (including mental health), so far as is reasonably practicable.

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.

Read the Heads Up training module below to learn more about:

  • common sources of work-related stress
  • actions to effectively manage work-related stress
  • the different roles and responsibilities of people in the workplace

Step 2: Consult your staff

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

Helping people understand the items in the list above is a good starting point. You may want to share the Heads Up online training module from Step 1 with your employees.

Discussing mental health risks in your workplace

There are many ways you can talk with your employees about understanding mental health risks, including:

  • one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
  • having mental health risks as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings or any way people in your organisation communicate with each other
  • when you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
  • through your health and safety representatives (if you have these)

Step 3: Identify the risks

Finding out what mental health risks you have in your workplace might take time as you build trust with your employees.

If you keep a record of any mental injuries or complaints or issues that come up, you will be able to see what is causing problems. You will be able to see patterns and then work on solutions to stop them happening again. This record can be as simple as a diary or a more sophisticated online injury recording tool, but it needs to be kept confidential.

Identifying mental health risk factors

Look at what is happening in your workplace, and think about what things could affect how mentally safe your workplace is. Some areas where you might get useful information are:

  • how much work people are getting done
  • 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 employees resign)
  • exit interviews
  • staff engagement and morale. You can do this by watching how people treat each other during work activities
  • customer feedback
  • incident or employee complaint reports
  • use of surveys to get feedback from your employees and any managers you might have

Step 4: Assess the risks

A risk assessment is a useful way to understand more about the risks to your employees' mental health and to help you think about how to manage these risks.

Mental health risk assessment tips

A risk assessment might take into account:

  • how employees will be exposed to a mental health risk (such as an abusive customer or a traumatic incident)
  • how often and for how long employees 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

Step 5: Manage the risks

After figuring out what things might be a risk to your employees' mental health, you will need to take steps to reduce these risks.

It is more likely that you will be successful if:

  • your employees can see that your workplace and management are committed to mental health and wellbeing
  • employees are able to have their say on what they think is mentally unsafe in your workplace
  • you get input from employees 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

Some examples of ways to manage mental health risks:

  • knowing how you and your managers can support your employees, for example by coaching, mentoring or training
  • planning workloads to make sure employees are not being given more than they can do in the time they have
  • giving employees more freedom to control when and how they do different tasks
  • making sure employees know exactly what is expected of them, and how their performance will be judged
  • offering help to employees who might need it (e.g. an employee assistance program or lists of local counselling services)
  • being available and open to employees if they have concerns about their job demands or their level of control in their job
  • checking employees understand any upcoming changes in your workplace, and know what they are expected to do
  • encouraging employees to speak up early if there are problems so they can get the support they need
  • modelling good mental health strategies yourself

Step 6: Review and keep improving

It's important to ask your employees their opinion when implementing a new strategy. It also gets your workplace involved and onboard, passes on a sense of personal responsibility and collaboration, and allows for continued improvement.

  • Ask employees the right questions: are we doing things right, or are there better ways it can be done?
  • Have regular conversations with all employees and keep them engaged. If something didn't work, tell them that and get them involved in ways to improve things
  • Review regularly –   set a date and stick to it
  • Look to see if your goal has been achieved. If not, why? Was it a lack of understanding?
  • Make a specific person responsible for monitoring and evaluating so they can keep track of how things are changing over time

More information

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.