5 January 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

In June of 2018, a Ministerial Advisory Panel released a report advising how Western Australia could modernise and reform their WHS laws. The report contained 44 recommendations, without substantive changes to the national model WHS Act that has already been adopted elsewhere. It’s expected that the new WHS Bill will be introduced to parliament in mid-2019, aligning Western Australian law with the rest of the country (except in Victoria).

With these new laws afoot and the mental health challenges faced by FIFO workers in Western Australia making headlines, we thought it would be a good time to examine how mental health is presently protected by WHS law in Western Australia. Read on… 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (1984)

Until the new Bill becomes enshrined in law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the OSH Act) will continue to provide a framework for WHS obligations in Western Australia. Of particular pertinence in this context is Section 19 of the OSH Act, which contains information about the duty of care obligations employers currently have to their employees. Although there are differences between this and the model national WHS laws, the obligation is the same: employers should strive to create a safe working environment for employees by not exposing them to hazards. These hazards may be physical or psychological in nature. According to Safe Work Australia, psychological hazards may include:

  • High job demand
  • Low job demand
  • Poor support
  • Poor workplace relationships
  • Low role clarity
  • Poor organisational change management
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Poor environmental conditions
  • Remote or isolated work, and
  • Violent or traumatic events.

Exposure to these hazards can lead to work-related stress and consequent psychological or physical injury. Accordingly, potential psychological hazards must be treated in the same way as physical hazards. This means that employers need to identify, eliminate, control, monitor and review hazards diligently. Employers should consult with their employees and representatives to ensure widespread compliance.

Impacts of mentally unhealthy workplaces on employers

As well as adversely affecting individuals, poor mental health in employees can have a variety of negative consequences for employers. These include:

  • Increased operational costs for absenteeism, presenteeism and workers’ compensation claims
  • Decreased morale and engagement of staff
  • Poorer productivity, performance and/or work quality
  • Increased staff turnover and decreased retention rates
  • Risks to the reputation of an organisation.

It’s become clear that employers need to protect mental health on their agendas to safeguard the psychological wellbeing of their employees, attract new talent and avoid the impact of a mentally unhealthy workplace on their bottom line.

Maintaining a psychologically safe and healthy workplace

To help employers understand and navigate their responsibilities regarding maintaining psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety in WA has created a helpful resource. This is definitely worth a read for employers who want to make sure they’re doing the best they can for their employees and themselves. The Australian Psychological Society also has more information available on workplace mental health.

In our experience at Recovery Partners, we’ve observed that the vast majority of employers are dedicated to looking after their employees and providing a safe working environment for them. Over the past few years, we’ve noticed an increase in employee wellness programs integrated into workplaces, and we’ve seen how both employees and employers enjoy the benefits of these. With decreased absenteeism and increased engagement from personnel, a collaborative approach to workplace health and safety facilitates best practices throughout the workplace. We’ve also seen more and more employers embrace RUOK Day initiatives, which stimulate conversation around mental health in general. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of organisations seeking mental health training for their staff to prioritise this in their workplaces.

Mental health training for organisations

 Under the OSH Act, guidelines on workplace health and safety are just guidelines, and there are no penalties for employers who do not meet their suggested obligations. Employers are free to use the methods they feel are appropriate to manage psychological risk in their workplaces. There are no mandatory workplace mental health training requirements, and employers need to decide what training they should commit to. They can assess their training needs based on:

  1. The level of risk presented by psychological hazards. This can be assessed by:-
    • Reviewing absenteeism data
    • Reviewing incident and injury data
    • Conducting employee surveys
    • Seeking feedback in employee exit interviews
    • Examining Employee Assistance Program Data
  2. Examining the potential benefits of improving mental health in the workplace.

Find out more about our Mental Health Training 

The amount and type of mental health training that an organisation requires can be determined after this assessment.

The right mental health training can be invaluable in helping employees and employers mitigate or lessen the effects of mental health challenges in the workplace. It’s financially astute, too: a study conducted by UNSW Sydney and the Black Dog Institute concluded that, in addition to large reductions in work-related sickness and absence, mental health training can provide a return on investment of $9.98 for each dollar spent on training. Training can also help an organisation to address and combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues. An appropriate mental health training program can equip people with the tools they need to recognise and respond to mental health issues as they arise.

If you’re a business based in Western Australia and you’d like to discuss mental health training or your WHS obligations in the area of mental health, get in touch.

Our services are available nationwide. For more information about our services contact us.

Our consultants love to have a chat, so go ahead and give us a call on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or email enquiries@rrp.com.au

303 of 373

Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/