Responding to psychosocial hazards: consultation is the key
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 128 No 3, 5 May 2023, page no. 16
On 1 April, amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Queensland) came into effect, making all employers’ duty of care for the psychosocial health of workers explicit.
This is not a new requirement, as Schedule 5 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 clearly defines health as both physical and psychosocial. However, the new regulation brings the requirement into sharper focus.
Queensland’s "Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work code of practice" (2022) also took effect on 1 April. The code provides the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU), its senior officers, and workers with a guide to what parts of the workplace can create psychosocial hazards and how workplaces can proactively risk-manage known or foreseeable risks to workers.
While it is fair to say this duty had existed before, it was essentially downplayed. The changes mean that it now needs to be actively attended to. Realistically, there is therefore a cost to school leaders in administering this and other WHS duties proactively. Most importantly, there is always a cost in terms of ensuring that genuine time is made available for thoughtful consideration of hazards, proactive consultation with workers, and genuine consultation with affected workers. Time needs to be allocated to ensuring that the duty is fully understood under the existing act and the amended regulation. The code is truly an invaluable tool, helping WHS committees and others to proactively manage known and foreseeable risks to the psychosocial health of all workers and others in schools.
Quality consultation with workers is at the heart of managing psychosocial hazards. School WHS committees should consider re-visiting the Queensland Government’s “Work health and safety consultation, cooperation, and coordination code of practice” (2021). When responding to psychosocial risks, workplaces are to use a risk management process. Figure 3 from the new code highlights that risk management is facilitated through consultation (see below).
Importantly, while codes of practice are guides in other states, in Queensland the codes (all of them) have the effect of legislation in the following context:
“Under section 26A of the WHS Act, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must:
- comply with an approved code of practice; or
- manage hazards and risk arising from the work carried out as part of the business or undertaking in a way that is different to the code but provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than the standard required in the code.”
The foreword to this code states: “In most cases, following an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act in relation to the subject matter of the code.”
The WHS landscape in schools is changing every day, and with two years of work on the Department of Education’s Safety Review Framework coming to a close, there are likely to be significant changes.
We all know our schools are not specifically resourced for WHS. Unions have made it very clear that dedicated WHS expertise is required in schools and needs to be funded through the allocative model. The QTU’s most recent EB claim called for a funded WHS Officer position. The QTU did not secure that resource, but the forthcoming resourcing review provides the opportunity to vigorously pursue this crucial allocation.