New WorkSafe guidelines to promote mentally healthy work

WorkSafe New Zealand has been consulting on new health and safety guidelines for persons conducting a business or organisation (PCBU).[1]

The, currently draft, guidelines aim to highlight the importance of supporting mentally healthy work, through the identification of psychosocial hazards and management of these risks.

Psychosocial hazards are sources or causes of harm to a person’s health and wellbeing. Some workplace tasks, like using heavy machinery or working at height, have obvious risks to be managed. Yet psychosocial risks can impact any worker, in any industry. The guidelines identify some common psychosocial hazards in the workplace. For example:

  • work-related stress;
  • bullying and harassment;
  • lack of work/life balance;
  • inadequate support; and
  • low job security.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) places obligations on PCBU’s to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate, but if that is not possible, then to minimise, risks to worker’s health and safety. “Health” under the HSWA means “physical and mental health”.

The benefits of mentally healthy work, where reasonably practicable steps are taken to eliminate or minimise psychosocial hazards, include increased productivity, better team morale, and workers taking less time off work.

The guidelines as currently drafted cover, amongst other things:

  • The factors influencing mentally healthy work and how they can impact businesses. For example:
    • Work design: lack of variety, unpredictable hours, repetitive tasks;
    • Social factors: bullying and harassment, lack of recognition/reward or development; and
    • Work environment: lack of rest and meal breaks, inadequate or faulty equipment, hazardous tasks.
  • An explanation of Māori health and wellbeing model Te Whare Tapa Whā, as a tool for understanding employee health and wellbeing;
  • A suggested risk management approach to managing psychosocial risks in the workplace;
  • Examples of control measures for managing psychosocial risks in the workplace; and
  • Advice for addressing psychosocial harm. For example:
    • Having internal support services available, including immediate support for the employee following an incident.
    • Referring to external professionals such as a GP, counselling services, or other community support organisations in the area if further support is required.
    • Having clear and accessible policies and procedures in place to address psychosocial harm; and
    • Having a return-to-work policy in place, if an employee that has experienced psychosocial harm needs time away from work to recover.

Submissions on the guidelines closed on 15 December 2023. WorkSafe have not yet set down a date that the new guidelines can be expected. We will watch this space and provide further updates when available.

[1]Mentally Healthy Work: good practice guidelines for managing psychosocial risks at work

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