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Psychosocial Hazards, the New Regulations and Red Beanbags

Psychosocial Hazards, the New Regulations and Red Beanbags

On April 1, Queensland joined NSW, TAS and WA by specifically regulating psychosocial hazards; the other jurisdictions will follow soon. What does this mean for you, and how best should you respond? We'll consider hazard identification, some of the problems and also suggest solutions and resources. 

Specifically, we'll take a look at:

  1. What are psychosocial hazards? 
  2. Identifying them using a three-fold focus.
  3. Using common hazard examples.
  4. Identification and management by being resourceful.
  5. Identifying and managing them through the use of resources.
  6. Some Good News.

When are They Going to Let us Do Some Work?

Are you rolling your eyes at the mention of yet another WHS/OH&S regulated area? Fair enough! The good news, however, is that very little of this is new. There are new categories, but most of the substance was already embedded in the existing codes and regulations. What they've done is rebadge them and give a new focus to them. A bit like Doc, of Snow White and seven dwarfs fame, after he studied psychology: he renamed Sleepy as Narcoleptic, Dopey as Cognitively Impaired, and Bashful as Affective Social Anxiety Disorder. They are the same dwarfs, just with different names.

All jokes aside, this topic does matter, however. The infamous suicide of Robbin Williams in 2018 comes to mind. He was a comic genius who made all of us laugh - until he decided he no longer wanted to. It's wise for us to remember that the waters of the human psyche run deep, so let's give this topic a serious look.      

What are Psychosocial Hazards

Firstly, let's distinguish between 'psychoLOGICAL' and 'psychoSOCIAL'; I think an analogy will be helpful. 

When we discuss the psychoLOGICAL, we refer to mental health, feelings, thoughts or the dynamics of a person's mind. Picture psychology like a thin red canvas beanbag; a big soft bag full of emotions, beliefs, habits, thoughts and more - just waiting to be sat on. Trust me; this is leading somewhere. 

Now picture that beanbag in your workplace, resting on a rough cement floor. Identifying the psychological hazard, visualise yourself moving it to a different and smoother section of the floor. Next, imagine one of your larger crew members (yes, him) coming in and sitting on that same beanbag. Picture him wiggling into a position of comfort - and perhaps you wince in anticipation of the likely bean explosion. Now picture your worker rising and hoisting that red canvas beanbag upward with his foot, then clutching it with his hand and tossing it aside. 

In our beanbag analogy, the floor and the room are environmental hazards we must manage. The psychoSOCIAL factors, however, are the contact areas with big-man's butt, the beanbag trauma undergone during that wiggle for comfort, the boot-lift, the grip, the toss and the landing. These social connections, interactions and human realities represent hazards and could lead to psychological harm (a tear, explosion or undue crushing). These are the psychosocial hazards.

Psychosocial risk management, crudely put, is about creating a workplace where your various beanbags don't burst, leak or get crushed.

The Technical View

Safework Australia defines psychosocial hazards as:

"Anything that could cause psychological harm (e.g. harm someone's mental health)."

The fact that we've already distinguished between psychological and psychosocial should help you make that definition work, but let's dive deeper with a quick what, who, when, where and how:

  • WHAT: Psychosocial hazards are factors that can lead to psychological harm.
  • WHO: If you conduct a business or undertaking, you must manage these hazards in your workplace. 
  • WHEN: They exist in apparent forms, like fatigue, bullying and harassment. They also can be less obvious, like burnout or slowly declining supervisor-worker relations.
  • WHERE: These hazards can have an internal source, such as working conditions, a co-worker or a supervisor. They can also come from external sources, such as customers, suppliers and the public.
  • HOW: We counter these hazards and manage these risks through the effective identification of hazards and then the careful assessment and management of risk. 

Identifying Psychosocial Hazards with A Three-Fold Focus

Using our beanbag analogy, you might consider this threefold focus: 

  1. The room and floor are your workplaces and the work itself.
  2. The beanbags are the individual workers, and your knowledge of their capacity and capability.
  3. The sitting, wiggles, boots, grabs, and tosses are the social interactions and circumstances your workers encounter.

Using Common Psychosocial Hazard Examples

More specifically, you can check for hazards that occur when:

  • Job demands are excessive (e.g. too little time, too few workers, unskilled work peers etc.).
  • Job demands are too low (e.g. boredom inducing mundane repetition)
  • Job demands are conflicting (e.g. wanting quick, quality and quantity at the same time)
  • Job demands are unclear (e.g. poor explanations, assumed knowledge, lack of training)
  • Job lacks personal controls or ownership (e.g. too little say over breaks or methods) 
  • A traumatic event occurs (either firsthand or is heard about, near misses etc.)
  • Exposure to hazardous physical conditions.
  • Conflict or poor communication between peers. 
  • Conflict between supervisors/managers and workers.
  • Violence, bullying or harassment (including sexual).
  • Lack of consultation, feedback, training or support.
  • Lack of recognition and reward.
  • Isolated or remote work.

All of these situations are factored into our resource design. 

Identifying Psychosocial Hazards by being Resourceful

Both team and executive leaders can often identify psychosocial hazards simply by watching and thinking. Leaders can be intuitive and proactive by:

  • Remembering what it was like when they worked in those roles, 
  • Mentally rehearsing and watching work as it is being done, 
  • Working in those roles from time to time (if appropriate), 
  • Routinely checking absence and injury reports.
  • Conducting Q&A sessions with workers, surveys and assessments.

This is also worthy of special mention: If you encourage a cohesive work environment, one where people are rewarded for honesty (rather than punished), your workers will be more likely to identify what is happening in them, for them, around them and to their peers. Cultivating this sort of environment is incredibly helpful in combating these hazards.

Identifying and Managing Psychosocial Hazards by using Resources

Beyond these strategies, we suggest the following resources as very helpful in this area: 

All these resources are included in our WHS Management System and the newer ISO 45001 OH&S Management System, but they can also be accessed separately. 

Some Good News 

Here is some good news when working with this type of hazard:

  1. Our systems filter out psychological fluff and sociological filler.
  2. Though these hazards vary from person to person, you can effectively manage this complex area.
  3. These regulations help us remove the greys of worker interactions - especially regarding our new workers.
  4. The point is not what we call the hazard - it's all about how we manage it.

These are worthy of explanation.

Good News Item 1: Our Systems Remove the Fluff

If you're like me, you're sceptical - and you're right to be. Dare I say it out loud, but psychology and sociology punch above their weight these days. Sometimes the psycho-babble feels too political, too light on the science, and too vague. 

But we work in an industry built on systems, mechanisms, checks, checks and more checks. We're into measurement and quantifiable observation. We're into rating and responding to hazards according to assessed risk. The result is that we tend to cut to the core and spin off the fluff. 

Our WHS and OH&S resources are built on pragmatism and systems, and once you put them to work, you find a lot of the nonsense falls to the side.

Good News Item 2: Helping You Manage All those Individuals

Psychosocial hazards can be highly individualised, and our resources are designed to help you identify individuals within teams and particular hazards within a bigger picture.

Good News Item 3: Removing the 'Greys' 

I'm not too fond of grey areas. The 'greys' need to be clarified, and these regulations remove the grey. For example, the jibes, practical jokes and workplace ribbing that used to be part and parcel of many workplaces, especially for new people, are no longer okay. This isn't just because people are more fragile and 'precious' than in previous decades - though they probably are; it's also because today's legislation and regulation declare it unsatisfactory. It may well be true that they don't make beanbags like they used to, but that's the beanbag we're required to look after. 

The worker who says, "Come on, I'm just mucking around," may mean well, but when it impacts upon someone's mental health, that worker now needs to be told, "It doesn't matter. It has to stop. It's the law."

Good News Item 4: It Isn't About the Labels

Remember, this is just a new categorisation for a hazard that was already there. Don't get tied up with labels and classifications. It's like asking if a pile of LSD tabs in the workplace is a 'tripping' or psychological hazard. (🙂) It doesn't matter - just manage those hallucinogen risks! 

The regulations are focused on effective identification and even more effective solutions - not whether you use the correct label.


In closing, remember that we've got some great resources, and you can find them in our WHS Management System, and the newer OH&S (ISO 45001) Management System, or you can invest in them separately. 

Follow each of the links for a better understanding of each - and here's a tip: just in case you didn't know. You can right-click on each link and choose 'Open link in new tab'. It's a neat trick if you don't already know it.

 Those resources again were:   

And maybe just one more psychologist's joke before we go".
Q: How many narcissists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Just one. All they have to do is hold the bulb in place while the world revolves around them.

If you have any questions about anything, give us a call. You'll be speaking with a subject specialist and, quite possibly, the same specialist that will support you as a client in the years ahead. Our marketplace difference is twofold: the quality of resources and our extraordinarily personalised support - and we're competitively priced too. Call 1800 304 336 to learn more.

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