Psychosocial hazards overview

Mentally healthy workplaces: Resources for management

Psychosocial hazards overview

Workplace psychosocial hazards are related to the psychological and social conditions of the workplace rather than just the physical conditions. Workers are likely to be exposed to a combination of work-related psychosocial hazards and risk factors. These include stress, fatigue, bullying, violence, aggression, harassment and burnout, which can be harmful to the health of workers and compromise their wellbeing. There are also risk factors (e.g. misuse of alcohol or other drugs, poor change management) that increase the risk or potential for harm to health from exposure to a hazard.

Examples of psychosocial hazards and risk factors that organisations should assess as part of the risk management process are listed below. The list is not exhaustive and there are other psychosocial hazards and risk factors that an organisation may need to consider.

Work demands
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Substantial and/or excessive physical, mental and emotional efforts required to do the job        

Tasks or jobs that involve:

  • fast work-pace and time pressure
  • excessive workload
  • repetitive or monotonous tasks
  • sustained concentration
  • high mental workload
  • extended work hours
  • large number of consecutive days worked
  • roster length
  • shift rotation
  • exposure to emotionally distressing situations (e.g. first responders including emergency and medical call outs)
Low levels of control 
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Lack of control over aspects of the work, including how and when a job is done (i.e. autonomy)

Tasks or jobs where:

  • work is machine or computer paced
  • work is tightly prescribed or scripted
  • workers have little say in the way they do their work, when they can take breaks or change tasks
  • workers are not involved in decision making about work that affects them or their clients
  • workers are unable to refuse working with aggressive individuals

Lack of control over aspects of accommodation arrangements         

There may be limited options to allow for:

  • personal scheduling of activities of daily living (e.g. meal times, showering)
  • varying sleep schedules
  • different accommodation preferences (e.g. privacy)
Inadequate support from supervisors and/ or co-workers
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Lack of support in the form of constructive feedback, problem solving, practical assistance, provision of information and resources

Tasks or jobs where workers have insufficient or inappropriate:

  • support from supervisor or co-workers
  • information or training to support their performance
  • equipment and resources to do the job
Lack of role clarity
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Unclear or constantly changing management expectations about the responsibilities of the job

Incompatible expectations or demands placed on workers by different workplace stakeholders

Jobs where there is:

  • uncertainty about or frequent changes to tasks and performance standards
  • important task-related information is not available to the worker
  • conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations
Poor organisational change management
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Uncertainty about changes in the organisation, structure or job

Unstructured approach to change

Workplaces where:

  • organisational change is poorly managed
  • there is inadequate communication and consultation with workers about the changes
Low recognition and reward
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Lack of positive feedback on job and task performance, and inadequate skills development and utilisation

Jobs where there is:

  • an imbalance between workers’ efforts and associated recognition and reward
  • a lack of recognition of good performance
  • lack of opportunity for skills development
  • skills and experience underused.
Poor organisational justice
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Unfairness, inconsistency, bias or lack of transparency in the way procedures are implemented, decisions are made, or workers are treated

Workplaces where there is a real or perceived:

  • inconsistency in the application of organisational policies and procedures
  • unfairness in the allocation of resources
  • bias in the approval of worker entitlements (e.g. annual leave)
Extreme environmental conditions
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Exposure to conditions that influence worker comfort and performance

Working with:

  • extremes of temperature
  • high levels of noise
  • poor air quality

Accommodation arrangements that unreasonably affect the amount of quality rest and sleep needed to manage fatigue, including exposure to:

  • hot and humid conditions with no relief
  • nuisance and excessive noise that disturbs or disrupts sleep routines

Adverse natural events

A natural event (e.g. cyclone, flooding, bushfire) that can:

  • restrict travel
  • constrain activities
  • interfere with communications
  • create uncertainty in the workforce and families
Remote work
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Work where access to resources and communications is difficult

Working and living in a remote location may mean:

  • limited access to reliable communication technology
  • limited access to preferred support network
  • limited access to recreational activities
  • interruption and reduced capacity to fulfil usual roles and commitments in family, community and other social networks
  • challenges with reintegration to home and work environments after being away from them
  • fewer opportunities to escape work issues and work relationships

Work where travel times may be lengthy

Commutes that involve:

  • multiple modes of transport
  • crossing time zones
  • overnight accommodation during journey
  • impact on unpaid personal recovery time
Isolated work
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Work where there are limited opportunities to communicate in person

Work where there may be:

  • limited opportunities for problem sharing and feedback
  • a perception of increased responsibility for decision making
  • limited opportunities for socialisation
  • barriers to communication
Inappropriate behaviours
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Exposure to behaviours that are unreasonable, offensive, intimidating or may cause distress

Witnessing or experiencing situations involving:

  • violence or aggression
  • bullying
  • harassment
  • conflict
  • discrimination
  • cultural insensitivity
Traumatic events
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Exposure to an event, or threat of an event, that is deeply distressing or disturbing for the individual

Witnessing or experiencing situations involving:

  • death or threat to life
  • serious injury
  • near misses
  • self-injury
Fatigue
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Fatigue is a state of mental or physical exhaustion (or both)

Jobs where there are:

  • high cognitive demands, such as sustained concentration
  • extended work hours

Design, quality and management practices for accommodation facilities and amenities that compromise the amount and quality of sleep and rest, such as:

  • inadequate buffers from potential sources of nuisance or excessive noise (e.g. parking, catering and recreational areas)
  • poor noise management (e.g. lack of noise curfews)
  • uncomfortable bedding
  • ineffective window treatments for sleeping during daylight hours
  • poorly scheduled cleaning activities

Medical conditions that exacerbate fatigue if not appropriately managed and supported, such as:

  • sleep apnoea
  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • some blood disorders
  • depression
  • anxiety
Alcohol and other drug use
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Use of legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, prescription and non-prescription drugs that affect the ability to work

Use of alcohol and other drugs that:

  • reduces quality of sleep
  • contributes to long-term physical and mental health effects
  • affects emotional regulation
  • compromises safe operation of plant and machinery
Poor physical health
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Lack of regular physical activity

Likelihood of exercise reduced by:

  • length of work shifts
  • lack of awareness about recreational options
  • unavailability of preferred activity options
  • restricted access to resources

Poor nutrition

Service of food that:

  • limits access to healthy food options
  • lacks nutritional information about menu items
  • leads to poor portion control

Illness or injury

Stress resulting from consequences such as:

  • pain
  • loss of function
  • lifestyle adjustments
  • side-effects of medical treatment