Employers are under increasing pressure to protect the psychological health of their workers, after the Productivity Commission (PC) released a draft report on its inquiry into mental health, in which it calls for major workplace reform.
The report, which was released for feedback this week, found that approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health, and while most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary.
The report notes that there are particularly strong links between employment and mental health, and that there a number of avenues through which employment can improve mental health outcomes.
“There is a growing focus on the role businesses can play in maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce — particularly the potential high returns to employers in terms of lower absenteeism, increased productivity and reduced compensation claims from investing in strategies and programs to create mentally healthy workplaces,” the report says.
“While business already have some obligations to ensure the (physical and mental) wellbeing of their staff, we are proposing ways to strengthen these and provide additional clarity on what is expected.”
The PC said the same risk management approach that applies to physical health and safety (an approach familiar to employers and employees) should be applied to psychological health and safety
“Less attention has been provided to psychological hazards in the workplace than traditional physical hazards as they are often harder to define and investigate. However, such hazards, including workplace bullying, are increasingly identified as significant contributors to psychological injuries.”
“Workplace mental health and productivity would be improved by making psychological health and safety as important as physical health and safety in practice. ”
The report also notes that managing return-to-work outcomes was inherently more difficult for smaller businesses due to the often concentrated nature of the work environment.
“Return to work for those with a psychological injury or mental illness is difficult if the injury or illness was related to personal conflict or wider cultural issues in that workplace that have not been addressed prior to return to work,” the report says.
“These difficulties are more acute for smaller businesses operating from a single location, as unlike larger organisations that have multiple sites, the business is unable to provide return to work at a different location.”
- Psychological health and safety in workplace health and safety laws: the model WHS laws (and the WHS laws in those jurisdictions not currently using the model laws) should be amended to ensure psychological health and safety in the workplace is given similar consideration to physical health and safety.
- Codes of practice on employer duty of care: codes of practice should be developed by Workplace Health and Safety authorities in conjunction with Safe Work Australia to assist employers to meet their duty of care in identifying, eliminating and managing risks to psychological health in the workplace. Codes of practices should be developed to reflect the different risk profiles of different industries and occupations.
- Lower premiums and workplace initiatives: workers compensation schemes should provide lower premiums for employers who implement workplace initiatives and programs that have been considered by the relevant Workplace Health and Safety authority to be highly likely to reduce the risks of workplace-related psychological injury and mental illness for that specific workplace.
- No-liability treatment for mental health-related workers compensation claims: workers compensation schemes should be amended to provide clinical treatment for all mental health-related workers compensation claims, regardless of liability, until the injured worker returns to work or up to a period of six months following lodgement of the claim. Similar provisions should be required of self-insurers.
- Disseminating information on workplace interventions: WHS agencies should monitor and collect evidence from employer initiated interventions to create mentally healthy workplaces and improve and protect the mental health of their employees. They should then advise employers of effective interventions that would be appropriate for their workplace.