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Why I need psychological health regulations

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In the coming weeks, Victorian Health and Safety Representatives are expecting to see the results of a long-running campaign for the introduction of psychological health regulations. As elected Health and Safety reps (HSRs) will know, regulations around a hazard make it much easier to exercise HSR powers, and WorkSafe is much more likely to take action.

There is a real need for change in this area. HSRs across all industries report that psychological health is not an obligation their employer takes seriously. 

Jenny, Disability Services

Jenny (not her real name) is a newly-elected HSR in disability services. She says that disability workers feel their demands for psych health protections are brushed off by employers. 

“The shifts are very long. They start at 6 in the morning and go until 9:30, then we go home, and come back for 2:30 to 7:30. On weekends, we do 7am until 7pm. 

“It’s so exhausting, especially the weekend shifts. And even when you finish at 7pm on a Sunday you might find yourself starting at 6am on the Monday. That’s barely any time to rest. 

“When we raise it through the roster consultation, we get told ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the customer’. And that’s the end of the conversation. We’ve been threatened with having our shifts shortened to two hours if we pursue it further.

“We hate the split shifts because...you don’t get to see family or get kids to school, and then the same thing happens in the afternoon. When you do your training, the Certificate IV, work-life balance is a big consideration. But when it’s put into practice it’s not happening. 

“We’re dealing with really serious exhaustion and isolation. It’s not healthy.

“Anything that will get employers to take our psychological health seriously will be most welcome.”

Work-life balance, shift work and fatigue are expected to be exactly the types of hazards that will be addressed by the new regs. Employers have always had a duty to control psychological risk factors, but psychological health regulations will mean more specificity about how they are expected to control these hazards, or face repercussions from WorkSafe.

Brett, High-Risk Electrician

Brett (also not his real name) is a high-risk electrician and a very experienced HSR, who reports similar problems in a wildly different industry. 

“I raised mental health as a concern last year when they were trying to change our rosters in the middle of a pandemic, but they came back and tried to say I was mentally unstable. It was pretty serious bullying and harassment. 

“After I raised mental health, the only thing they did was run through some PowerPoint presentations on the job. They talked about fitness and provided us with fruit boxes. They don’t do anything to actually help, especially when they’re constantly bullying and harassing HSRs. 

“One of my fellow HSRs has actually been stood down, after raising a health and safety issue.” 

In a high-risk industry, HSRs have to be very well-versed not just in the Act, but also in all the relevant Regulations. Importantly, Regulations will make it easier for HSRs to issue Provisional Improvement Notices. 

“I’d probably issue a PIN on mental health if there was something in the Act that I could depend on. You’d need solid ground. At the moment, I’m not sure where it fits in the Act, but if it was clarified I’d definitely do it.”

This is exactly what psychological health regulations will provide: solid ground. 

Regulations tend to follow a standard structure. 

There will be risk factors outlined (like bullying, harassment and work-life balance) for which employers must carry out a risk assessment and demonstrate the controls they have implemented. They will need to follow a prescriptive approach, which means there will soon be far less wiggle room for bosses to squirm out of their responsibilities. 

Until the new regulations are announced, you can put this psycho-social hazard standard to work in your workplace. It has been developed by the Victorian union movement, and we hope the new regulations will be similarly thorough. 

In the coming weeks, Victorian Health and Safety Representatives are expecting to see the results of a long-running campaign for the legislation of Regulations in the area of psychological health. As HSRs will know, having a Regulation for something makes it much easier for them to exercise their powers, and WorkSafe much more likely to take action.

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