Workplace stress focus

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation has commenced discussions with Safe Work NSW regarding the Work Health and Safety Road Map for NSW, which identifies psychological injury and illness in the workplace as one of its focus areas.

The Road Map outlines priorities aimed at reducing fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses in NSW by 30 per cent in 2022.

Work is underway on the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy, which will consider psychosocial risk factors including workplace violence, workplace bullying as well as mental health promotion in terms of injury reduction.

Importantly, Safe Work NSW will be increasing resources and support to deal with psychosocial risks. This means more direct support and advice for workplaces.

Teachers, executives and principals have identified work overload and work intensification as psychological risk factors along with workplace violence and/or bullying. The results of the Public Service Commission’s “People Matter Survey 2016” indicate an unacceptable level of work-related stress experienced by most teachers (see table).

Federation has repeatedly asked the Department to identify the policies and procedures in place to prevent, minimise and/or eliminate the psychosocial risks that contribute to work-related stress. To date, the Department has provided only the material related to “Respectful Workplaces” and the Complaints Handling Policy and Procedures (which are being rewritten).

Federation will continue discussions with Safe Work NSW around the “Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy” and the role of Safe Work staff, including inspectors, in terms of compliance with the duties under the Work Health and Safety Act. Reports will be provided on the strategy as it is developed and implemented.

Consistent with Annual Conference policy, Federation will undertake a work-related stress survey to identify risk factors and inform the development of recommendations aimed at creating safer workplaces.

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WHAT IS STRESS?

Safe Work NSW defines work-related stress in the following way:

“Work-related stress describes the physical, mental and emotional reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/or their resources (such as time, help/support) to do the work. It occurs when they perceive they are not coping in situations where it is important to them that they cope.

“While stress itself is not a disease, if it becomes excessive and long-lasting it can lead to mental and physical ill-health.”

The Department of Education’s Work Health and Safety website provides “Guidance in Completing the Risk Management Proforma — Occupational Stress” which lists risk factors such as the physical environment, including working in unsafe conditions, work practices including overload and high demands, workplace expectations, bullying or discrimination, inconsistent implementation of policy and procedures, and threat of harm, including exposure to violence.

It is important that members use the Department’s Incident and Injury Hotline to report incidents and/or behaviour that affect their physical and/or psychological safety. This means that follow-up action should be taken to minimise the risks identified in the report so that further injury is prevented.