In response to the growing demand for more formalised training in this area, the UNSW Science along with the UNSW Lifelong Learning Hub is launching a new short course. Managing Psychosocial Risks at Work is a self-paced online course, led by Associate Professor Carlo Caponecchia. Carlo is a member of the Standards Australia Committee responsible for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (SF001), who contributed to the development of the International Standard on psychosocial risks AS/ISO45003.

From HR and OHS professionals to senior leadership across all industries, the course is designed to help organisations meet their legal obligations in identifying and controlling psychosocial hazards at work. 

What are psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards are sources of harm at work. They can manifest in myriad ways, from how work is organised and supervised to the work environment and equipment provided. Psychosocial risk management focuses on identifying these hazards and reducing the degree of psychological harm that occurs as a result. 

Psychosocial hazards are not a new phenomenon. You can spot them in nearly every workplace – unreasonable workloads, micromanagement, lack of career development opportunities, the list goes on. But given the snowballing focus on mental health, employee wellbeing and workplace culture in the media, the pressure is on for organisations to finally take these hazards seriously. 

Impact on workplace culture and employee wellbeing

The impacts of psychosocial hazards can vary based on a range of factors, including frequency and duration of exposure, similar to many other workplace hazards.. Associate Professor Carlo Caponecchia says, “It’s vital to consider how these hazards combine, because the accumulation of psychological harm can amplify the negative outcomes that a person and organisation experience.”

Repeated exposure to psychosocial hazards can lead to frustration and lack of motivation, and escalate to feelings of depression and anxiety. In some cases, workplace-related psychological harm can lead to clinically-diagnosed disorders and the potential for substance abuse and social withdrawal, for example.

Where many organisations are going wrong

Unfortunately, research shows that many organisations aim to treat the symptoms without addressing the problem at the root.

“The most commonly used strategies include stress management, mindfulness, resilience training and exercise programs, but the problem with those interventions is that they’re all focused on the individual,” says Carlo. 

“The hazards we're talking about come from the way work is structured and managed, so that's where we need to intervene. We would never ask someone who's exposed to harmful noise at work to just get better at dealing with noise. Consistent with workplace health and safety practice, we'd fix the noise.”

Carlo stresses that the first step should not be resilience training or giving people yoga at work: “It’s about protecting people from harm and realising the opportunity that when you control these types of hazards, not only do you reduce the negative impacts on people’s health, but you improve the efficiency and productivity of the organisation.

New regulation means it’s time to act

New regulation has come into effect in many states that escalates attention on psychosocial risk within existing workplace health and safety duties. 

“This means organisations are required by law to identify and control psychosocial hazards in the same way they manage other physical hazards, like manual tasks that might lead to a back or shoulder injury,” says Carlo.

While these are not new duties, the updated regulations have certainly drawn more attention to these issues and placed increased pressure on organisations to follow through. 

Turning theory into action

Based on Carlo’s research and close collaboration with industry, there’s been a strong call for more formalised training in this area. 

“Since the new regulation has come into effect, the pressure has ramped up for organisations to take this seriously, and people have been asking for more assistance in this area,” says Carlo. 

“Having a more formal opportunity to gain a micro-credential in psychosocial risk gives people the confidence to take these learnings back to their organisations and start making positive changes.”

Enrolments are now open for UNSW’s new short course, Managing Psychosocial Risks at Work. Designed and led by Associate Professor Carlo Caponecchia, the course is suitable for anyone who plays a role in workplace health and safety: 

“We’re seeing HR professionals, Work Health & Safety officers and those involved in Safety Management, but of course many senior managers have oversight of these issues, so it’s relevant to a whole suite of roles. People and Culture Officers and Wellbeing Managers included.”

About the course: Managing Psychosocial Risks at Work

The course comprises a series of self-paced online modules, offered over three weeks. You can complete the coursework (approximately 14 hours) at a time that suits you, with two virtual workshops to either attend live or watch later. 

Throughout the course, you’ll learn to:

  • identify psychosocial hazards in various workplace contexts 
  • compare methods for assessing psychosocial risks
  • evaluate a range of control strategies, such as work redesign 
  • understand the relevant regulatory requirements, duties and frameworks
  • apply risk management strategies in your own work context.

Associate Professor Carlo Caponecchia