Work pressure … the silent hazard


When we talk about risk assessments and Workplace Health and Safety, most people will think about the physical hazards, the tangible items that can easily be seen. We know that managing risk prevents harm in the workplace and reduces the number and severity of incidents.

What about the not so obvious risks?

Psychological health is one of those risks that is sometimes misunderstood but should still be viewed and included in an organisation’s health and safety policies and procedures.

We know that work is generally beneficial to mental health and personal wellbeing. It provides people with structure and purpose and a sense of identity. It also provides opportunities for people to develop and use their skills, to form social relationships, and to increase their feelings of self-worth.

There are circumstances, however, in which work can have adverse consequences for health and wellbeing. Risks to psychological health at work may arise from organisational or personal factors, with the major factors being poor design of work and jobs, poor communication and interpersonal relationships, mentally, physically or emotionally demanding work, bullying, occupational violence and fatigue.

In particular, workplace stress can occur when someone feels that the demands of their role are greater than their abilities or resources to do the work. While stress isn’t the same thing as anxiety or depression, excessive or long-term stress can increase your risk of developing a mental health condition.

With approximately $480 million being paid in workers’ compensation per annum, psychological injuries have become a major concern in Australian workplaces due to the negative impact on individual employees, and the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these claims.

Claims involving mental disorders are usually associated with an above average time off work and higher than average claim costs. Findings from the Work-related Mental Disorders Profile 2015 report showed:

  • typical compensation payment per claim was $23,600 compared to $8,700 for all claims;
  • typical time off work was 14.8 weeks compared to 5.3 weeks for all claims
  • 39% of claims caused by harassment, bullying or exposure to violence
  • 90% of claims attributed to mental stress (*see explanation below)
  • 65% of claims awarded to workers aged 40 and over.

*Mental stress refers to the mechanism of injury with the most common mechanisms causing mental stress being:

  • work pressure (32%)
  • work-related harassment and/or bullying (24%)
  • exposure to workplace or occupational violence (15%)
  • other mental stress (11%)
  • exposure to a traumatic event (6%)
  • vehicle accident (5%)
  • being assaulted (3%)
  • sexual/racial harassment (3%).

Early intervention

Employers should intervene when signs of stress are being noticed. Early signs may include increased unplanned absences, withdrawal or deteriorating work performance.

Dr Jay Spence from states ‘there is substantial evidence supporting early interventions to reduce psychosocial risk factors that can lead to a psychological injury such as anonymised workplace screening of mental health issues and interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy and stress management’. It is important that you identify and address workplace issues that may be causing or contributing to stress however identification should be part of an overall awareness campaign.

Dr Spence said ‘The first step is educating the workforce about mental health. This will reduce stigma and help at-risk employees to understand their experience and symptoms. Then providing easy access to evidence-based psychological resources and support becomes the second step.’

Remaining attentive is essential, but consideration should also be given to the fact that an employee may be more comfortable in remaining anonymous so engaging a third party to proactively support your employees is an option that could be considered.

How to recognise the risks

Identifying psychological hazards can present many challenges for an organisation. It requires commitment from the organisation through a code of conduct, policies and procedures and encouraging open communication and consultation with workers. A starting point would be to:

  • Review incident reports, workers’ compensation claims, patterns of absenteeism, sick leave, staff turnover and staff complaints.
  • Get feedback from workers through one-on-one discussions, surveys and focus groups.
  • make observations, such as deteriorating work performance or how workers interact with others.
  • Job demands—the level of physical, mental and emotional effort required to do a job.
  • Job control—the level of control a worker has over aspects of their work including how or when a job is done.
  • Support—the level of support from supervisors and co-workers, information, equipment and resources available to allow work to be done.
  • Workplace relationships—the nature of relationships between workers, managers, supervisors, co-workers and clients.
  • Role clarity—the overall scope or responsibilities of the job, clarity about the objectives, key accountabilities and management expectations of workers.
  • Organisational change management—how change in the organisation, structure or job is communicated and the extent of worker involvement during these changes.
  • Recognition and reward—the nature of feedback on task performance, performance reviews, opportunities for skills development, formal and informal rewards.
  • Organisational justice—perceptions of unfairness, consistency, bias and respect for workers.


  4. Work-related Mental Disorders Profile 2015 Report

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_cta h2=”” css_animation=”fadeInLeft”]Safety Australia Group is currently working with Dr Jay Spence from to provide a complete mobile solution for mental health and emotional intelligence training for your managers and supervisors.

Please contact us if you would like more information about this proactive solution or would like some coaching for your managers and supervisors on how to identify and manage Psychological hazards in the workplace.