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Preparing for workplace psychological health reform

30 March 2023

With new Psychological Health Regulations on the horizon in Victoria, the Victorian Chamber has provided an update and delivered practical advice on navigating mental wellbeing in the workplace.

The recent webinar, Getting ready for new Psychological Health Regulations in Victoria, addressed the proposed OHS Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations that will likely impact Victoria this year, and what businesses will need to do to meet their legal obligations.

Anton Zytnik, Victorian Chamber Principal Consultant for Mental Health and Wellbeing, helped define mental health hazards, reported on the cost of poor mental health in the workplace, looked ahead to future psychological health regulations in Victoria and offered guidance for businesses.

Data

Statistics paint a grim picture of the increasing impact of poor mental health outcomes on the workplace.

Anton presented WorkSafe data showing 15.1 per cent of total claims being for mental health, an increase from 13.1 per cent in the previous year.

While the incidence is relatively low (albeit increasing), the cost ratio is high and continues to grow. An average mental health claim is worth about $55,000 compared to about $14,000 for a physical injury. A stress claim’s median lost time is about 30 weeks (compared to 6.2 weeks for physical injury).

This is just direct claims for mental health. This is not even talking about secondary psychological injury as a result of a physical injury.
The sheer cost of work-related claims for stress is something we should all be very concerned about, even if we might not have experienced it directly as an employer.

Anton said.

Draft regulations

“The upcoming changes are not unique to Victoria and reflect nationwide trends,” Anton said.

Four main objectives of the regulation will include identifying and controlling risks and reviewing and revising controls.

“This is going to become a requirement. It’s no longer just a good idea. It’s something that all employers are going to need to do.”

A unique aspect to Victoria in the draft legislation is the requirement for written prevention plans for certain psychosocial hazards and periodic reporting to WorkSafe.

“Clearly the regulator is not going to want employers just taking policy templates off the shelf, putting a name in and putting them back on the shelf. They’re going to be expecting living, breathing, operational instructions to employees that actually mean something … on a day-to-day basis.”

Guidance

While Anton accepted that recognising mental health hazards is not as simple as physical safety risks, he said it’s crucial to develop and maintain a system to regularly identify mental health hazards in the workplace.

“Although the word is not used in the draft Regulations, the key word that we encourage employers to think about is: system.

“A system is a repeated process that happens time and time again. Documented processes, delegated responsibilities. The system goes on whether someone’s on leave or resigns.

“No doubt many businesses have systems in place for recruiting, inventory and stock control, quality assurances. That’s what we want to aspire to when identifying mental health hazards.”

Systems may vary from employer to employer and involve a combination of approaches. From the outset this can include team meetings, one-on-ones and visual observations.

“These are really good things to do. Continue doing them. But don’t let your entire system rely on that. You want to augment that with some strong datasets,” Anton said.

Datasets can come in the form of many human resources metrics around sickness, absence rates, overtime rates, turnover rates, rates of grievance procedures, bullying claims and stress claims.

“You should also be analysing these for themes. So things like exit surveys or spikes in people using your EAP [employee assistance program] for work-related issues. Use them as part of the mix,” Anton said.

Most important, however, is an anonymous channel of communication for the purpose of psychosocial risk surveying in the workplace.

“I cannot emphasise strongly enough that the most effective and easy method of getting a good handle on identification is introducing some sort of anonymous channel by which employees can report these things.

“Typically taking the form of a survey, it’s an anonymous way by which employees can let you know in real time where the areas of risk are.

“You get inside every pocket of the organisation, including the areas that don’t normally speak out.

“You can get a very accurate, evidence-based profile across the organisation of where the pockets of risk are.”

Real life example

Zytnik referenced a business that participated in the Victorian Chamber’s Mental Health Comply program, which offers a psychosocial risk survey of employees as part of the program. The business discovered instantly a serious issue within its warehouse.

“They knew there were some issues there, but not the extent of them. The business was able take corrective action before being forced to take urgent reactive steps like managing a stress claim or dealing with a bullying complaint.”

The webinar reiterates that businesses must enact meaningful action and not see the Regulations as a prompt to simply refer stressed employees to EAP programs.

“That is where the difficult work lies, but also where the payoff is for any employer prepared to go down that that path.

“I think we have a bit of a phenomenon now, almost like a kind of a greenwashing. Let’s call it mental health washing.

“An employer might portray this veneer of wellness and caring about mental health but essentially still be a psychologically unsafe environment.

“Don’t be one of those employers. Do the hard work where it matters and that will save you money, make you a great employer and also bring you into line with your new compliance obligations.” 

This article was originally published by The Victorian Chamber of Commerce

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