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What's your biggest workplace risk? It could be stress

By Claire Mansell - 7 Mar 2016

The new Health and Safety at Work Act comes into force on 4 April 2016. Under the new Act there is a greater focus on employers proactively identifying and managing risks.

Some risks are easy to identify, such as proper use of heavy machinery, but other intangible risks are often overlooked such as stress, bullying and harassment. These types of risks are insidious and can have lasting effects on employees. However, many employers are ill-equipped to deal with these risks or simply don't think of them when undertaking a risk assessment of their workplace. The consequences of failing to deal with these risks can be considerable - in 2010 an employee who had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of an unsafe workplace was awarded just under $250,000 for lost wages, medical costs and damages.

Having a comprehensive policy on stress, bullying and harassment is a good start, but it won't be enough to satisfy an employer's obligations under the new Act. The old Health and Safety in Employment Act was criticised for creating a culture where health and safety was seen as a "box-checking" exercise. Policies were created and put in a drawer and promptly forgotten about.

Section 36 of the new Act requires employers to provide "any information, training, instruction, or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking".

So, in addition to having a comprehensive policy on stress, bullying and harassment, employers need to ensure that they are providing information and training to employees about these risks. This can be done through ongoing training sessions, including training about these risks as part of a new employees' induction and educating managers about how to identify and manage these risks. The new Act also emphasises worker participation. It may be beneficial to consult with employees or have them assist when developing the processes and policies.

Claire is an experienced employment lawyer with a special interest in helping employers deal with bullying and sexual harassment. Contact Claire Mansell if you would like assistance with your HR policies and their implementation and training.


Claire Mansell

Andrew Steele


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