Safe Work NSW’s Ian Firth on pending mental health policy changes

Jan 20
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Despite the growing focus on psychological health and safety in the workplace, AIHS says there are still significant gaps in policy and regulation. 

This has sparked discussion with Safe Work Australia regarding legislative changes to ensure all jurisdictions are operating at the highest level.

Ian Firth, State Inspector of SafeWork NSW, shed some light on the feedback which has been received so far.

“PCBUs (person conducting business or undertaking) and duty holders currently have obligations in relation to managing risks associated with psychological health,” he said. “Stakeholders tell us existing legislation and guidance material is inadequate, lacking clarity and causing some confusion around what compliance looks like.”

SafeWork Australia commissioned a review into the content and operation of the model WHS laws in 2018, appointing independent reviewer Ms Marie Boland based on her experience in WHS policy and regulation. 

The findings were delivered last year and included 34 recommendations to improve clarity and consistency, including undertaking further review in certain areas. 

In response, Ian says “SafeWork NSW has commenced consultation with industry, social partners and academics to consider what changes are required now and in the future for NSW in relation to regulatory changes and/or guidance.”

However Ian says what the changes will mean for businesses is still uncertain. 

“In what form a change might take we cannot predict. However, feedback is also telling us there is a gap in the clarity and practicality of what is required from duty holders. Effects on business and workers may therefore be around strengthening the risk management processes, reporting of risks to psychological health, integration into existing SMS’s, and modelling leadership and commitment.”

Ian says organisations can take proactive steps to mitigate mental health risk.

It begins with leadership commitment and support, and having the systems in place. So having reporting systems for example, and integrating into the existing Safety Management System. This will assist in developing the culture you need to identify and respond to risks to mental health.”

He also believes managers and supervisors need to be trained to be aware of the risks and how to respond to them using workplace systems as they often see early warning signs before the wider company.

While improving mental health outcomes for employees requires commitment from leadership, the benefits offered are many and significant. 

“Taking a systematic approach to psychological health can improve engagement and productivity,” Ian says. 

“Some of the strategies can also contribute to reducing injury cost and duration. They can contribute to helping prevent legal costs and compensation costs, staff turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism. Other benefits of increasing importance in modern workplaces are things like improving reputation and attracting talent. And of course It can improve compliance with WHS duties.”

Ian Firth has a background as a Clinical Psychologist in occupational rehabilitation. He is currently the State Inspector for the Psychosocial Services Team at SafeWork NSW, who provide information and advice on matters relating to work-related psychological health and safety. Ian was also involved in the development of the NSW Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy and Benchmarking Tool.

Hear from Ian directly at the Improving Integrated Approaches to Workplace Mental Health conference, being held in Sydney from 3 – 4 March in partnership with AIHS. The conference presents new insights, evidence-based strategies and practical ideas to implement in your workplace and improve mental health for your employees. 

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

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