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Psychological Risks in The Workplace: Defence Charged with WHS Breaches After a Worker Took His Own Life


The Department of Defence has been charged with three work health and safety (WHS) breaches after a worker committed suicide while on duty on 28 July 2022. The three charges consist of one Category 2 offence (carrying a maximum penalty of $1.5 million) and two Category 3 offences (each carrying a maximum penalty of $500,000).

The charges are in relation to alleged failures in managing psychological risks in the workplace. In particular, the Department breached its WHS duty by failing to provide:

  • Safe systems of work
  • Necessary training to workers
  • Information necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety

PCBUs’ obligation to manage work-related psychosocial risks

PCBUs have a legal responsibility under the WHS legislation to protect their workers by managing both physical and mental hazards, and risks in the workplace.

Some examples of psychological hazards include:

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Poor support
  • Poor workplace relationships
  • High job demands
  • Exposure to traumatic content or events

Poor psychological health and safety will not only result in losses in productivity but may also lead to psychological injuries if it is not managed appropriately and timely. Psychological injuries are expensive and require more time off work compared with other injuries.

Members are reminded of their obligations under the WHS legislation to provide a safe and healthy workplace to workers and others. This includes providing a workplace free from psychosocial hazards so far as reasonably practical. PCBUs can develop workplace policies and provide adequate training to raise awareness of psychological risks in the workplace. Where a psychological risk is raised or identified, PCBU should investigate and address the risk promptly and appropriately following the relevant workplace policies.

We can assist in reviewing your policies and systems in relation to the management of psychosocial hazards and the proper handling of complaints. If you need any assistance, contact our Workplace Relations and Legal Team on 02 6175 5900.

For more information in relation to managing psychosocial hazards,  please see WorkSafe ACT – Managing work-related psychosocial hazards .

If this article has raised concerns for you or your employees, building & construction workers, related industries and their families can access 24/7 support by calling 1300 OZHELP (1300 694 357) available 24/7.

For 24/7 crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.