Psychosocial hazards have been a longstanding concern within Australia’s work health and safety laws. Recent amendments, effective from December 2023, bring about significant changes, introducing increased penalties and new criminal responsibility provisions for both bodies corporate and the Commonwealth.

Understanding psychosocial hazards

But first, what exactly is a psychosocial hazard?

In broad terms, it includes anything capable of causing psychological harm, including bullying, role ambiguity, limited job control, remote or isolated work, violence, aggression, harassment and more.

Safe Work Australia, the entity leading the development of national policy for improved work health and safety addresses this issue in more detail.

Key legal changes employers must be aware of

The amendments to the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act), which came into effect on 15 December 2023, usher in increased penalties.

Category 1 offences incur:

  • a $15 million penalty for a body corporate or the Commonwealth, increased from $3 million
  • a $3 million penalty for a person conducting a business or undertaking or an officer, increased from $600,000
  • a $1.5 million penalty for any other person, increased from $300,000
  • Category 2 and Category 3 offences incur:
  • Category 2 penalties stand at $2,090,000, up from $1.5 million
  • Category 3 penalties stand at $700,000, up from $500,000

The new criminal responsibility provisions have implications for officers, employees and authorised persons who act on behalf of a body corporate.

Practical steps that employers should take

In order to navigate these changes effectively, employers should consider the following steps:

  • Download Safe Work Australia’s Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work. This offers practical guidance to PCBUs (person conducting a business or undertaking) on how to manage psychosocial hazards at work
  • Access the model WHS Regulations which incorporates all amendments made since 2011
  • Review Comcare’s updates on the latest changes to WHS (work health and safety). These updates include links to additional resources and information. Comcare is the national authority for work health and safety, and workers’ compensation
  • Review and amend the organisation’s current policies, programs, practices and processes to ensure that these are compliant with these changes
  • Ensure that there is sufficient internal communication of these issues and ongoing training for both managers and employees. Doing so will allow all parties to continue to stay abreast of what is required and better understand how these changes impact their roles and responsibilities

Specific changes in Queensland

Employers in Queensland should be aware of additional legislative changes. The Queensland government recently introduced new laws establishing coercive control as a stand-alone, criminal offence.

Coercive control involves a pattern of behaviour, encompassing physical, social, financial or psychological abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten an individual. Such behaviour is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

A recent Women’s Agenda article on this issue drew reference to comments made by Queensland’s Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D’Ath. The minister stated, “Coercive control is serious, it has serious impacts on the victim and their families and a new, stand-alone offence reflects that non-physical violence is just as dangerous as physical violence”.

If you have questions about these legal changes, psychosocial risks, and how these can be managed at the workplace, please get in touch. Wurth HR can assist in several ways, including an assessment of the organisation’s current state of readiness as well as development of appropriate policies and procedures to remain fully compliant.

Wurth HR offers consulting and training on all of the areas above. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of the above matters or require guidance on the specific steps your business needs to take.

▶ Contact David Wurth for an obligation-free discussion at 1300 900 741