NSW: new strategy to address psychological risks in the workplace

The NSW Government recently launched a strategy that outlines how SafeWork will support employers to manage risks and comply with their duty to prevent psychological harm in NSW workplaces.

The SafeWork NSW Psychological Health and Safety Strategy 2024-2026 will be supported by $5.6 million in government funding over the next two years to deliver workplace mental health programs through the Black Dog Institute and Transitioning Well.

The programs will be targeted at small businesses, which make up the bulk of employers in NSW and generally have less capability and fewer resources to manage mental health and protect psychological health at work.

New initiatives as part of the 2024-2026 strategy include:

  • practical tools, resources and webinars to help businesses.
  • the translation of all resources to reach and support culturally and linguistically diverse workers (a high-risk worker category for psychological injury).
  • building capability across SafeWork NSW’s inspectorate and conduct compliance visits in high-risk workplaces.
  • creating industry forums whose role is to identify psychosocial hazards in the relevant industry.

NSW is home to roughly 850,000 small businesses which employ 1.7 million people or about 43 per cent of the state’s private sector workforce.

Nationally, workplace mental ill health is estimated to cost Australian businesses up to $39 billion each year due to lost participation and productivity.

SafeWork NSW consulted with many stakeholders during the development of the strategy, including workers, health and safety professionals from government agencies, unions and business.

“Large businesses and government agencies at high-risk of psychological injuries can expect compliance checks from SafeWork NSW,” said Acting Deputy Secretary SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin.

“SafeWork NSW will issue improvement notices, prohibition notices or formal regulator warnings and may prosecute workplaces who repeatedly do not comply or where they have seriously breached WHS laws.

“In addition to being an obligation under WHS regulations, a psychologically healthy and safe workplace helps reduce business costs.”

These include costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism, where staff are away from work and where staff are attending work under stress or experiencing mental health issues, according to Curtin, who said presenteeism is estimated to have an annual cost of $1680 per employee.

NSW Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson said the past few years have been particularly hard for people.

“Our workforce has been impacted by increased pressure from the cost-of-living, natural disasters, and COVID-19,” she said.

“We know workers in industries such as emergency services, nursing, and law enforcement have been on the frontline and may be more at risk. Our strategy launching today aims to strengthen mental health support in the workplace.

“Irrespective of the industry that you work in, everyone deserves to work in a respectful and psychologically safe workplace. It is imperative that our workplaces and employers are doing everything they can to prevent psychological harm in NSW workplaces.”