Employers in Queensland will need to take proactive steps to manage psychological risks to which workers may be exposed from April next year.

And those in manufacturing and construction will need to protect workers from silica dust exposure beginning in May.

Last week, the Queensland Government introduced two new codes of practice into the state’s work, health and safety regulation.

Each of the codes are approved codes under section 274 of the state’s Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 and are thus legally enforceable under the Act.

The first code is the Managing the risk of Psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022.

Set to come into effect on April 1 next year, this will require employers to undertake reasonable measures to protect their workers from either physical or psychological harm which may arise from any psychological hazards that are present at the workplace or within the work environment.

Such hazards may include excessive job demands (or conversely a lack of job challenge), low levels of job control, inadequate support, unclear roles or accountability, poor organisational change management procedures, a lack of recognition and reward, a lack of organisational justice, workplace conflict, remote or isolated work, traumatic events, violence/aggression, and bullying or harassment including sexual harassment.

Under the code, employers will need to undertake reasonably practical measures to protect workers from harm associated with such hazards to the maximum possible extent.

To do this, they will need to identify psychosocial hazards, assess the risk involved, implement suitable control measures to reduce risk and maintain and review the effectiveness of these control measures.

The government has also introduced the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in construction and manufacturing of construction elements Code of Practice 2022.

This will come into force in May and will require employers in manufacturing and construction to take reasonable steps to protect workers from risks associated with exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust (silica dust).

Crystalline silica is a common mineral which is found in many building materials such as bricks, blocks, pavers, tiles, mortar, concrete and cement (including products such as fibre-cement sheeting and autoclaved-aerated concrete) as well as most rocks, sands and clay.

When tiny particles are inhaled into the lungs, this can lead to silicosis (a potentially fatal lung disease), lung cancer, renal cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Inhalation can occur during tasks which involve cutting, sawing, griding, drilling, polishing, scrabbling or crushing any materials that may contain crystalline silica.

According to the code, measures to prevent this may include:

  • using suitable dust control methods that prevent silica dust from being generated or being released into the air, including water suppression and on-tool dust extraction
  • using appropriate respirable protective equipment to safeguard at-risk workers
  • using exposure data from air monitoring to check that dust controls are effective
  • providing health monitoring to at-risk workers, with clearly defined triggers for testing based on level of risk; and
  • consulting with workers, as well as training, education, instruction and supervision of workers.

The new codes follow growing concern about the impact of both psychological hazards and silica dust exposure in the workplace.

In 2019/20, data from Safe Work Australia indicates that 10,776 serious claims for workers compensation were lodged as a result of mental health conditions.

On average, 2018/19 data indicates that each of these claims forced employees to be off work for more than half of the year (27 weeks) and costs employers $45,900 in compensation.

All up, this means that such injuries are costing $495 million in compensation payments and  are resulting in almost 291,000 work hours (36,000 work days) being lost each year.

Meanwhile, an earlier research report published by PwC in 2014 indicates that challenges associated with workplace mental health (including lost productivity) cost employers almost $11 billion annually.

That research indicates that businesses on average car derive an estimated $2.30 return for every dollar invested into suitable mental health strategies.

Not surprisingly, regulators are acting.

In August, Safe Work Australia amended its national model work, health and safety regulations to require employers to manage psychological hazards to which their employees may be exposed at work.

Last month, NSW became the first state to amend its own regulations to give legal effect this requirement across that state.

On silicosis meanwhile, the Cancer Council estimates that around 600,000 workers are exposed to silica dust each year.

On average, this results in 350 Australians contracting silicosis each year along with a further 230 people being diagnosed with long cancer caused by exposure to silica dust.

Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the new codes of practice will ensure that workers have safer workplaces and greater protection at work.

She said the new codes were developed through consultation with academics, unions, employer organisations and the community.

“I thank all those involved for helping to make Queensland workers safer,” she said.