In a recent webinar regarding navigating accelerated changes in the workplace due to COVID-19, Safe Work Australia branch manager Meredith Bryant said a significant WHS risk that’s been amplified during a COVID-19 pandemic is the risk to psychological health and safety, or mental health.
She said that can include things like exposure to the virus itself or lack of personal protective equipment; increased work demand such as delivery drivers working those longer hours; low support and isolated work such as working from home; or exposure to violence or aggression, for example, through aggressive customers.
“COVID-19 may have introduced or increased those psychosocial hazards in the workplace, including things like exposure to physical hazards and poor environmental conditions,” she said.
According to Ms Bryant, much of the issues around workplace mental health can come down to poor organisational change management, an example being badly handling changing responsibilities and restructures due to COVID-19.
She said employers can incorporate simple things in their workplace like regularly checking in with their workers to find out how they’re going.
“People are dealing with non-work-related psychosocial risks such as financial stress, social isolation and uncertainty about employment,” she said.
“Simple things like staying informed with information from official sources and communicating this to workers, consulting your workers and representatives on any risks to psychological health, and referring those workers to appropriate work-related mental health support services can assist with managing stress from COVID-19.
“Or you may not be able to remove the stress workers are facing at home. Employers must eliminate or minimise the risks to psychological health and safety as much as reasonably possible.”
Employers must still follow WHS laws even for employees working at home
Ms Bryant said it’s important that employers be aware that the model WHS laws still apply even if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace.
She said working from home may change, increase or create additional WHS risks.
“For example, working from home can create different psychological risks, including workers being isolated from their manager and colleagues, and not having those clear boundaries between work and home life,” Ms Bryant said.
“These work, health and safety risks need to be continually reviewed and managed accordingly.”
Ms Bryant said employers should also consider the frequency of communication with their workers regarding their surrounding work environment, workstation set-up and the impact of working from home on their mental health.
“Employers must do what they reasonably can to manage the risks for a worker who works from home,” she said.
“Widespread flexible working arrangements and working from home are likely to continue for many workplaces.”