A debate piece published in BMJ Psychiatry in 2014 stated that “Mental health problems are common in the working population, and represent a growing concern, with potential impacts on workers (e.g., discrimination), organisations (e.g., lost productivity), workplace health and compensation authorities (e.g., rising job stress-related claims), and social welfare systems (e.g., rising working age disability pensions for mental disorders).”
The debate piece argues that an integrated approach to workplace mental health combines the strengths of medicine, public health, and psychology, and has the potential to optimise both the prevention and management of mental health problems in the workplace.
To realise the greatest population mental health benefits, workplace mental health intervention needs to comprehensively:
1) protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors for mental health problems;
2) promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities; and
3) address mental health problems among working people regardless of cause.
A document published by the International Organization for Standardization (IOS) provides guidance on the management of psychosocial risks at work, as part of an occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system.
The document is intended to be used together with ISO 45001 Occupational health and safety management which contains requirements and guidance on planning, implementing, reviewing, evaluating and improving an OH&S management system. ISO 45001 highlights that the organisation is responsible for the OH&S of workers and others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting their physical and mental health.
The aim and intended outcomes of the OH&S management system are therefore to prevent work-related injury and ill health to workers and to provide safe and healthy workplaces. Consequently, it is critically important for the organisation to eliminate hazards and minimize OH&S risks by taking effective preventive and protective measures, which include measures to manage psychosocial risks.
- Laws and Acts related to Mental Health Workplace Health and Safety
- Work Health Safety Act 2011 (Federal)
- Work Health Safety Regulations (State and Territory)
- Mental Health Act (State and Territory)
- Criminal laws: apply to incidents of bullying, assault or other criminal behaviour.
- Anti-discrimination laws: organisations are required to make reasonable adjustments to allow workers with mental disorders to perform the inherent requirements of their job.
- Fair Work Act 2009: includes orders to prevent the worker from being bullied at work by an individual or group of individuals. The Act prevents employers from taking adverse action against an employee or prospective employee because of their disability (such as for accessing sick leave). However, it does not apply to action taken based on the inherent requirements of the position.
- Privacy laws: regulate handling and disclosure of personal information and health care records.
What steps your organisation could take – plan of action to set up a safe workplace
- Review the legislation
- Compare this to your current policies (if written)
- Complete a psychological risk assessment (e.g., People at Work Survey to identify potential psychosocial risks and hazards)
- Develop or update policies / frameworks to ensure they are inline with legislation (you may choose to engage an employment lawyer to ensure there is no risk that you’re providing incorrect legal advice)
- Provide training to leaders / staff
- Provide staff with information and resources