Henry Davis York partner and workplace health and safety law expert, Scarlet Reid, told HC Online psychological injuries under the relatively new workplace safety regime in Australia was now “firmly on the radar” for HR teams.
“A lot of companies are talking about psychological injuries and the types of systems they need to put in place to deal with that. It is more of a recent challenge,” she said.
Reid said a rise in the number of workers comp claims claiming psychological injury meant companies were now looking at the workplace safety law considerations.
“There seems to be a trend of workers compensation claims for psychological injuries, and even though workers compensation is a bit different [to safety law], it’s related, and that’s one reason why it is getting attention in the HR arena,” she said.
Employees can suffer psychological injuries in the workplace when, for example, they are bullied by colleagues or impacted negatively by a company restructure.
If an employee as a result suffers from depression or an adjustment disorder, Reid said it could be alleged this was in breach of workplace health and safety law.
Safety and HR teams need to work together to ensure they were compliant, she said.
“There is no easy answer, but at the same time it is not enough to say that it is just too difficult and do nothing,” Reid said.
“There has to be a mechanism for trying to identify potential hazards and putting the controls in place to deal with them.”
Reid gave the example of progressive companies who are putting in place employee assistance programs, proper grievance procedures, or appropriate reporting lines.
In the case of a restructure, HR may increasingly need to manage psychological safety risks as well as traditional considerations of redundancy and cost to the bottom line.
“It won’t just be about the financial cost – but also the safety impact. How are we managing the potential fallout, and what assistance HR can offer?” Reid said.
Reid said the area of psychological injury provided “no easy answers”, as the risks were harder to define and mitigate than traditional physical safety risks. However, she said it was “on the agenda”, even though there is still “work to be done”.
An increasing number of workers comp claims for psychological injuries is a factor causing HR teams to examine the possible workplace safety implications.