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18 May 2020

Managing risks to psychological health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the physical and mental health and safety of workers and other persons while at work.

Employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the physical and mental health and safety of workers and other persons while at work.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have had to hastily implement working from home arrangements. They may not have fully considered their duty to protect their workers from psychological risks in the workplace, which extends to employees’ homes.

Particular risks to workers’ psychological health arising from working from home and the COVID-19 pandemic, include:

  • isolation
  • high or low job demands
  • reduced social support from managers and colleagues
  • fatigue
  • online harassment
  • family and domestic violence
  • unstructured working periods as a result of overlapping responsibilities due to home schooling or caring arrangements.

While workers continue to work from home, it is important for employers to monitor psychological risks and adapt work processes to support workers, by, for example:

  • establishing boundaries around work hours to manage fatigue
  • scheduling regular meetings and catch ups with team members to help maintain ongoing contact and foster positive working relationships
  • staying connected via phone, email or online (via your company’s videoconferencing, instant messaging platforms, etc.) to help alleviate feelings of isolation and monitor work capacity
  • maintaining frequent communication and providing regular updates on the workplace’s response to COVID-19, which will be constantly changing.

Employers should also consider whether:

  • workers are aware of any available employer assistance programs and whether the contact details for the employer assistance program (if available) are easily accessible for employees
  • there are any other services available through the company that may assist workers to manage their mental health and wellbeing and whether the details of these services have been communicated and are easily accessible
  • they have appointed Mental Health First Aid officers within the business that workers can speak to and, if so, whether workers are aware of how to locate the details of whom to contact.

As the restrictions in response to COVID-19 begin to ease, and workers return to the workplace, many workers will likely be anxious about the continuing risk of the pandemic. Employers will need to take steps to comply with their duties under WHS legislation to provide information to workers about health and safety in the workplace and to proactively consult with workers about these matters.

If employers are interested in having mental health first aid officers in their workplace to assist them meet their workplace health and safety duties, Belinda Winter, a partner in the Workplace Relations and Safety team, who is also a qualified mental health first aid trainer, is offering a mental health first aid (MHFA) training for workplaces course on 18th and 25th June. Click here to find out more.

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This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please let us know.

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Annie Smeaton
Belinda Winter

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