SMEs struggling with psychological risk management regulations

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One of the most common OHS-related challenge for businesses in Western Australia is adapting to a new suite of legislative changes around psychological risks, however, many small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) in particular are struggling to adapt.

With the introduction of WHS regulations that require businesses to eliminate psychosocial risks (or to minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable) in Western Australia, psychosocial hazards have been placed on the same footing as other significant hazards such as falls or operating machinery.

The new regulations, which came into effect late last year, have challenged many businesses including SMEs, according to Sophia Rossow, director and principal HSEQ consultant/auditor at Spring Safety Consultants.

“SMEs are discovering the requirements to eliminate psychological risks apply to them, no business is exempt. Challenges are conducting risk assessments and taking a range of steps to prevent and protect worker wellbeing,” said Rossow, who is an AIHS Certified Chartered Generalist OHS Professional with 25 years’ experience in the mining, construction, rail and utilities sectors across Australia, UK and Canada.

“While we welcome legislative changes in industry to improve OHS outcomes for workers, many small to medium businesses simply aren’t resourced to identify, assess and control psychological hazards/risks, they don’t have the inhouse capability and can little afford to employ psychologists and OHS professionals.”

While WorkSafe WA (and SafeWork Australia) have been very supportive in providing an array of videos, podcasts, information sessions and worksheets, Rossow said the regulator should continue its education program and support SME compliance efforts with the new psychosocial regulations.

“It would be helpful for industry to have local teams of mental health inspectors to tap into for advice and guidance,” said Rossow, who also noted that a topic that should be in the spotlight when discussing mental health is the principle of good work design.

“Good work design enhances health and wellbeing, improves job satisfaction, team performance, which all result in business success through higher productivity and innovation. If you were asked to re-design your job or create a job for others; what inputs and outputs would you like to see?” said Rossow.

Spring Safety, which assists SMEs across a range of sectors, predominately, construction and mining industries, recently won the Stirling Business of the Year 2023 Award, Agile Business Award and a scholarship to WA Leaders for its work in creating healthier and safer workplaces.

One of the more common emerging gaps in terms of compliance and regulatory issues in business can be found in the live entertainment and events industries, according to Rossow.

“I have provided OHS consulting to Vancouver Film Studio, music schools, theatres, and stadiums in Perth, and find a common misconception is that the WHS construction regulations don’t apply to these types of event construction activities,” she said.

“The main risks associated with temporary structures are collapse or structural failure due to poor design, inadequate engineering, overloading, poor supervision, high winds, unsuitable ground conditions, crowd movement, and behaviours.

“We believe the regulator has not focused on this industry as much as its commercial and domestic construction counterparts, therefore significant education and industry effort is required to achieve compliance with the new regulations.”

To help SMEs manage compliance, Rossow said it is important to find an OHS partner (inhouse or external consultant) who is qualified and has industry experience to conduct three main activities: (1) audit/inspect/monitor; (2) create management systems that align with international standards; and (3) coach, mentor and support.

“For OHS professionals my advice is to undertake a course of study in psychology and my advice for OHS practitioners is to undertake a course in mental health first aid, and keep up to date with your CPD, attend AIHS conferences, events, network and collaborate with your peers,” Rossow concluded.