Western Australia Recognise Insecure Work as a Health Hazard

In an Australian first, Western Australia has formally recognised insecure work in its new Code of Practice on Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace (“the Code”), which provides practical guidance on how Western Australia workplaces can comply with their duties under the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

A psychosocial hazard is defined as any social and organisational factor with the potential to cause psychological or physical harm. In terms of work, it’s anything in the design or management of work that can cause stress.

Approximately 3 million Australian workers lack job security. An estimated 2.4 million – 20% to 25% of the total workforce – are casual workers, with no paid leave entitlements.

What are psychosocial hazards at work?

The World Health Organization lists ten psychosocial hazards that can arise at work. These cover issues including high uncertainty in job content, lack of control, lack of support and job uncertainty. Long term exposure to these hazards has been found to increase the risk of acute and severe mental or physical injury.

Better recognition of such hazards was recommended in 2018 by the Boland Review into the ‘model’ laws, regulations and codes that underpin uniformity between Australia’s state and territory work health and safety regimes.

Australia’s federal, state and territory ministers agreed to this recommendation in May 2021. However, Western Australia are the only State to include insecure work thus far.

Research Backs WHS Legislation Changes

A growing body of research shows insecure work is a health hazard.

A submission to the Senate inquiry into job security found insecure work has three major negative outcomes:

  • higher incidence/frequency of injuries, including fatalities;
  • poorer physical and mental health; and
  • poorer knowledge of, and access to, employment rights and less willingness to raise concerns.

Fear of losing work, which is commonplace with insecure work, was found the be a powerful disincentive against complaining or using rights available to them. For example, a 2021 survey of 1,540 workers by the Australian Council of Trade Unions found:

  • 40% of all insecure workers said they had worked while unwell because they didn’t have access to paid leave
  • 67% of those who worked through an ailment, rather than taking time off, said they feared taking leave would affect their job (compared with 55% of permanent workers)
  • 50% of those who were sexually harassed took no action because they feared negative consequences (compared with 32% of permanent workers)

Step in the Right Direction

Western Australia’s recognition of job insecurity in the WHS Code has been praised as a ‘step in the right direction’ for the State’s WHS legal framework. It will be interesting to see if the other States follow suit and incorporate it in their own WHS framework.

If you have further questions about developing WHS polices for your business please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Luke Maroney, Daphne Klianis or Josh Hoggett.

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