MENTAL HEALTH & SAFETY

Mental health is a workplace issue but what are the specific types of workplace mental health hazards we should look out for?

A mentally healthy workplace takes positive steps to prevent harm by identifying mental health hazards, managing harm from an early stage, and supporting recovery, just like we would with physical hazards at work.

Under the workplace or occupational health and safety laws, employers must provide and maintain a working environment for their people that is safe and without risks to mental health.

Employers also have an obligation to consult with employees through their unions on matters that affect their mental health and safety.

MENTAL HEALTH HAZARDS

Employers must create a positive, supportive and inclusive workplace and have systems that manage these risks and support good mental health in the workplace.

When assessing the risks its important to understand that often it may be a combination or risk factors that increases the chance of injury or illness.

Some of the most common workplace mental health hazards include:

High and low job demands

Job demands are one of the most common workplace mental health hazards. Sometimes, challenging tasks can make workers feel excited and motivated about their work. However, it is important that workers aren’t overloaded with excessive, unrealistic or unreasonable demands.

There are many types of job demands in the workplace, which can vary depending on the type of work, industry and the location of the workplace, including:

  • time pressures or work overload
  • high or low mental demands
  • physical demands
  • emotional demands.

If workers are exposed to high and low job demands, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to high and low job demands?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about high and low job demands?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with high or low job demands, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Low job control

Low job control happens when workers have little say in the workplace, including how their work is done and what their work objectives are.

There are many examples of what job control might look like in the workplace, which can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace, including:

  • not being able to decide what work tasks are performed and when
  • not having the ability to choose where work is performed. For example, at home or in the workplace
  • not having the freedom to decide how to do work tasks
  • being supervised heavily.

If workers have low job control there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to low job control?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about low job control?

If you need to talk to someone about concerns with low job control, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Poor organisational change management

When change happens in the workplace, it can be either positive or negative. When it is managed poorly, it can have a negative impact on workers, including feelings of anxiousness and job insecurity.

There are many examples of poor organisational change management in the workplace, which can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace, including:

  • making changes without talking to or allowing workers and their representatives to have a say
  • announcing changes at the last minute
  • not ensuring that workers and their representatives understand the changes that will impact them properly
  • using inappropriate communication channels to advise workers and their representatives about changes
  • not allowing enough time for the changes to take effect to give workers time to adjust.

If workers are exposed to or experience poor organisational change management, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor organisational change management?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor organisational change management?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with poor organisational change management, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Poor support

Support in the workplace is the practical assistance and emotional support that managers, supervisors, or co-workers provide to workers. Providing adequate support can help workers get through challenging situations in their work.

The availability or quality of support can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace. Some of examples of the different types of support which may or may not be available in the workplace include:

  • the provision of information and advice
  • support with completing tasks
  • coaching and mentoring
  • debriefing after difficult situations
  • listening while people vent frustrations
  • being caring and empathetic
  • help when making decisions and solving problems
  • sharing resources.

If workers experience situations where there is poor support provided to them, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor support?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor support?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with poor support in the workplace, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager yourself if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Violent or traumatic events

A violent or traumatic event is usually when workers are exposed to abuse, the threat of, or actual harm that causes fear and distress.

This type of workplace mental health hazard is most common amongst workers who work in first responder, disaster and emergency services, customer service and defence personnel roles.

The types of violent and traumatic events can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace. Some of examples include:

  • robbery
  • physical and verbal assault from customers, clients or patients
  • witnessing or experiencing stressful events including death, grief, suicide, accident or injury
  • ongoing bullying
  • severe weather events and natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods
  • workplace accidents, injuries or deaths
  • downsizing or mass redundancies
  • terrorism.

Witnessing a violent or traumatic event, such as the examples above, can also be harmful to workers’ mental health – this is called vicarious or secondary trauma.

If workers are exposed to or witness a violent or traumatic incident, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to violent or traumatic events?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about violent or traumatic events in the workplace?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with violent or traumatic events in the workplace, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Remote or isolated work

Remote or isolated work is when workers find it difficult to get help or assistance from other people because of the location, the time when the work is performed, or the nature of the work being done.

A worker may be isolated even if other people may be close by, for example, a cleaner working by themselves at night in a city office building. In other cases, a worker may be far away from populated areas, for example, on a farm.

Examples of remote or isolated work can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace. Some of examples include:

  • all-night convenience store and service station attendants
  • office workers working from home
  • long distance freight transport drivers
  • scientists, park rangers and others carrying out field work alone
  • health and community workers working in isolation with members of the public.

If workers are exposed to situations where they are required to perform remote or isolated work, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to remote or isolated work?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about remote or isolated work?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with performing remote or isolated work, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Poor workplace relationships

Workplace relationships with managers, peers and co-workers can either positively or negatively impact workers’ mental health. Wherever groups of people work together, conflict can arise.

Prolonged and unresolved relationship conflict can result in more extreme forms of conflict, such as bullying and harassment. Some of examples of how poor relationships can play out in the workplace include:

  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Bullying and harassment, including discrimination and sexual harassment
  • Abusive or offensive emails or messages
  • Threatening body language
  • Isolating or excluding workers from activities or training
  • Allocating some workers more tasks than others, or allocating very minimal tasks
  • Deliberately withholding information needed for work performance.

If workers are exposed to situations or work environments where poor workplace relationships exist, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor workplace relationships?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor workplace relationships?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern about poor workplace relationships, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Low role clarity or role conflict

Low role clarity arises when there is a lack of clarity in workers’ performance objectives, key accountabilities, their colleagues’ expectations of them and/or the overall scope or responsibilities of their job.

Role conflict occurs when a worker is required to perform a task which doesn’t sit right with their own values or expectations (for example, the worker expects transparency and this does not exist in the workplace). The greater the conflict between the worker’s actual role and their values or expectations, the higher the likelihood of a worker experiencing work-related stress.

Some of examples of what low role clarity or role conflict can look like in the workplace include:

  • where workers may have multiple reporting lines or supervisors and as such may have competing demands
  • being asked to undertake a specific task with no instructions or detailed information about requirements
  • requests to undertake tasks that are not typically part of the roles and responsibilities of the position
  • lack of clarity about what tasks need to be completed, what the deadlines are, and the priorities for individuals, teams and work units
  • changing position descriptions and/or areas of responsibility without consultation or discussion

If workers experience low role clarity or role conflict in their jobs, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor role clarity or role conflict?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor role clarity or role conflict?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with poor role clarity or role conflict, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Poor organisational justice

Poor organisational justice refers to workers’ perceptions of fairness at work and includes procedural and relational fairness. Procedural fairness relates to how procedures are implemented, and relational fairness relates to the degree of dignity and respect given to workers.

Some of examples of what poor organisational justice can look like in the workplace include:

  • excluding people who will be affected by decisions from consultation and decision-making processes, including health and safety and union representatives
  • failing to take appropriate action to address inappropriate behaviour, poor performance or misconduct
  • lack of communication and transparency regarding organisational direction, strategy, objectives and decisions
  • bias, impartiality, favouritism and nepotism
  • discrimination, harassment and inequitable treatment of workers.

If workers experience poor organisational justice, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor organisational justice?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor organisational justice?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern with poor organisational justice, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Low recognition and reward

Recognition and reward refers to the acknowledgement provided to workers resulting in increased feelings of confidence, pride, and being valued for work contributions.

Recognition and reward from supervisors, managers and co-workers can involve encouragement, gratitude, compliments, and other gestures of appreciation. Recognition and reward can be considered hazardous when it is low or disingenuous.

Some examples of what low recognition and reward can look like in the workplace include:

  • when mechanisms and practices for regular performance discussions, performance planning and goal setting don’t exist
  • providing recognition or acknowledgement that isn’t genuine
  • inequitable reward and recognition practices
  • rewarding and recognising individuals that have not contributed to a particular outcome, including taking credit for the work of others.

If workers experience forms of low recognition or reward, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to low recognition and reward?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about low recognition and reward?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern about low recognition or reward, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

Poor environmental conditions

Working in poor quality and hazardous working environments, such as poor air quality, high noise levels, extreme temperatures, working near unsafe machinery is not only a risk to workers’ physical health, but also their mental health.

There can be many examples of what poor environmental conditions might look like in the workplace, which can vary depending on the type of work, industry and location of the workplace. Some of examples include:

  • physical work health and safety procedures, including audits and regular risk assessments, are not done
  • workers aren’t given the equipment and resources they need to do their work safely
  • the work environment isn’t monitored to test for decibel levels, air quality, and so on
  • workers do not receive information, instruction and training on how to perform hazardous tasks or how risks can be eliminated or appropriately controlled.

If workers are exposed to poor environmental conditions, there is an increased chance of mental or physical injury or illness.

What must employers do to control workers’ exposure to poor environmental conditions?

Under work health and safety laws employers must ensure the health and safety of workers.

Health and safety is both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers and workplace mental health hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks.

Employers must assess these risks and control them like any other health and safety hazard. This must be done in consultation with workers.

Who can I talk to about poor environmental conditions?

If you need to talk to someone about a concern about poor environmental conditions, don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Talk to your health and safety representative or union delegate for advice about raising concerns with your manager. You can also raise your concerns with your supervisor or manager, if you feel comfortable in doing so.

If you require urgent mental health support please contact these services for 24/7 crisis support:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
www.lifeline.org.au

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
www.beyondblue.org.au