Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace: What Are They and What Do They Mean For My Business?

Undeniably, the world of work has been through significant upheaval in the last 3 years during, and in the wake of, the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst our orderly work worlds have been thrown into disarray, and as we’re still waiting to see how the dust settles, I’m optimistic that progress is being made in the right direction, for both Australian businesses and employees.

The pandemic can be blamed for many things, but one thing we can thank it for is ripping the lid off underlying workplace issues –  challenging our work cultures and environments, and our wellbeing at work, including the rapidly increasing rates of chronic stress and burnout.

Precipitously, back in 2018, Safe Work Australia undertook a review of the model Work Health and Safety laws (the Boland Review). While organisations were responsible for managing psychological health under the existing laws, the review found that organisations had limited understanding of their specific duties and responsibilities under these laws.

Hence the WHS Regulations were amended, to include: ‘how to identify psychosocial risks associated with psychological injury, and the appropriate control measures to mitigate those risks’.1  

The amendments came into effect on April 1, 2023.

What are psychosocial hazards and risks?

Psychosocial hazards refer to factors that can influence a worker’s psychological health and safety.2 They are hazards that:

  • arise from or in relation to:
    • the design or management of work
    • the working environment
    • workplace interactions or behaviours; and
  • may cause psychological and physical harm.

A psychosocial risk is a risk to the health or safety of a worker or other person arising from a psychosocial hazard.2

Depending on your workplace, work environment, organisational context, and the nature of work, the psychosocial hazards that present may differ. For example, psychosocial hazards in the workplace can include the following3:

  • Job demands
  • Low job control
  • Poor support
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Inadequate reward and recognition
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Remote or isolated work
  • Conflict or poor workplace relationships and interactions

For a complete list of psychosocial hazards in the workplace, see here.

Psychosocial hazards and burnout

I want to take a moment to highlight the crossover between the psychosocial hazards in the workplace, and the main causes of burnout in the workplace, both of which are associated with chronic workplace stress that has been left unmanaged4.

Given the crossover between psychosocial hazards and the main causes of burnout, I’m optimistic that the amendment to the WHS Act 2011 will assist in reducing the rate of chronic stress and burnout that we’re currently experiencing, by addressing their root causes in the organisation. And ultimately, making healthier workplaces for the future.

What are the health impacts of psychosocial hazards?

The majority of these psychosocial hazards can be grouped under work demands. According to Comcare6, work demands are one of the leading causes of workplace stress and psychological harm, and when they are not effectively managed, employees are more likely to experience workplace stress and other health issues.

Health impacts of work demands may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Problems sleeping
  • Anger and/or mood swings

These health issues can lead to disengagement or withdrawal from work, and decreased performance.6 Not to mention, reduced productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism.

What does this mean for my organisation?

Work-related psychological injuries come at great cost to organisations. The average psychological injuries have longer recovery times (up to 25 weeks), require more time away from work, and have higher costs associated.3

In the last 3 years from 2018-19, there was an 18% increase in Comcare claims related to work demands; while 37% of all employees with a mental injury claim in 2020-21, were not working.7

The benefits of managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards in the workplace are many3:

  • reduce worker injury and illness
  • decrease turnover
  • decrease absenteeism
  • increase organizational productivity and performance
  • increase workplace culture

Under the new WHS laws, organisations are required to address the psychosocial risks posed to employees, and anyone else working in the business (including contractors, labour-hire, apprentices, trainees, work-experience students and volunteers), by effectively identifying psychosocial risks and implementing appropriate control measures.

It’s important to remember during the risk analysis process, that multiple psychosocial hazards and work demands may occur together and interact with each other, worsening the health risk to the individual.

Part 2 of this series will address the signs to look out for when conducting assessments of your workplace and your workforce.

What does this mean for me as an employee?

The weight of responsibility doesn’t sit solely on the shoulders of the organisation; rather it should be shared with employees. Yes, organisations now have a responsibility to ensure that the work environment they create fosters the psychological and physical health and safety of employees, but employees are also responsible for managing and mitigating risks to their own health and safety.

From a workplace perspective, this includes raising issues or concerns around the psychosocial hazards, especially those relating to work demands, so that solutions may be co-created with leaders in order to mitigate the risk.

As psychosocial hazards and work demands can lead to chronic stress, finding and implementing personal strategies to manage and mitigate stress will help increase coping skills to meet the work demands; as well as minimize the significant physical and cognitive impacts of stress on the body. And, therefore, reducing the risk of burnout.

As an executive health coach who works with leaders to prevent and recover from burnout, I am excited by the prospect of returning these valuable employees to healthy work cultures and environments that support their wellbeing and performance. Now, with the amended WHS Act aiming to eliminate psychosocial hazards in the workplace – and thus also the majority of risk factors for burnout – I’m optimistic of a future where burnout is also eliminated. Or, at least, becomes the exception and not the rule.

Top take-aways

  • Work-related psychological injuries place a significant economic burden on organisations, with an average duration of 25 weeks off work for psychological injury, without guarantee that employees will return at full capacity.
  • The amendment to the WHS Act 2011 now includes identifying psychosocial risks associated with psychological injury, and implementing appropriate control measures to mitigate those risks.
  • The amendment covers employees and other persons conducting work in the company.
  • The responsibility to manage psychosocial hazards at work should be shared between the organization, and the employee.
  • Given the crossover between psychosocial hazards and the causes of burnout in the workplace, the updated WHS Act may also help to eliminate burnout in the workplace.

If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned for part 2, Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace: What Are The Signs and Symptoms? I will be sharing the psychosocial hazards to look for within the organisation and from the perspective of employees.


  1. Australian Government. Work Health and Safety Amendment (Managing Psychosocial Risk and Other Measures) Regulations 2022 – Explanatory Statement.
  2. Comcare. People at Work.
  3. Safe Work Australia. Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work: Code of Practice. July 2022.
  4. World Health Organisation. Burnout an occupational phenomenon: International Classification of Diseases. 2019.
  5. Infinite Potential. 2021 Global Workplace Burnout Study.
  6. Comcare. Work demands: Practical guidance for employers.
  7. Comcare. Prevention Strategy 2022-2025.

2 Comments on “Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace: What Are They and What Do They Mean For My Business?

  1. Pingback: Psychosocial Hazards In The Workplace: How To Identify The Signs and Reduce The Risk | Dr Kellie Rose

  2. Pingback: Psychosocial Hazards In The Workplace: Why They Are Important Considerations For Businesses | Dr Kellie Rose

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