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The concept of health and safety consists of both physical and mental components, but for a long time the former has dominated the latter.


However, with drastic changes to working environments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health and wellbeing of workers is becoming a more central focus for WorkSafe New Zealand and other regulators abroad.


The annual cost to New Zealand businesses of poor mental wellbeing among the workforce is estimated to be at least $1.65 billion, but this isn’t just a New Zealand problem, it’s a global one.


Currently, it is estimated that one billion people worldwide suffer from a mental disorder. This has cost $2.5 trillion to the world economy, including the effects of reduced productivity. By 2030 the cost of poor mental health is predicted to rise to $6 trillion. 


These statistics illustrate that ensuring mentally healthy workplaces is not only an important legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act, but it is good for the business bottom line too.


So what is being done to achieve this?


Health and safety on the international stage – new standards and regulations


A new international standard specifically dealing with the management of psychosocial risks in the workplace, ISO 45003:2021 Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety at work (ISO 45003) has just been released.  This is the first global standard giving practical guidance on managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. 


The standard has been developed for use together with ISO 45001:2018 – Occupational health and safety management systems, in order to ensure psychosocial risks are managed in a manner consistent with other workplace health and safety risks and integrated into organisations’ broader businesses processes.


Although ISO 45003 is designed to provide guidance rather than comprise a formal accreditation, it gives comprehensive and practical assistance to help organisations identify psychosocial risks in their workplaces. It also encourages organisations to introduce and imbed good mental wellbeing into workplace culture and adopt proactive and preventative actions to avoid psychosocial issues arising.


In a similar vein, a number of Australian states have recently taken steps to ensure increased regulation and guidance is available for organisations to assist them to manage psychological risks in their workplaces.


In May 2021 Australia’s state workplace health and safety Ministers agreed to amend the Australian work health and safety regulations to include controls for managing psychological risks. This has been heralded as a major step forward in the prevention of psychosocial harm in Australian workplaces, and recognises the significant impact that uncontrolled risks to mental wellbeing have on workers and the wider workplace.


Separately, the state of Victoria (which is one of the few states that has not adopted the Model health and safety laws in Australia) has announced that it is developing regulations to assist employers to better manage psychological hazards and support mental wellbeing at work.


In addition to increased regulation, Australia’s first Approved Code of Practice for managing psychosocial risks has come into force in New South Wales. The Code titled: Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work is intended to provide clear and practical guidance to organisations on how to identify and deal with psychological hazards such as role overload, role conflict, low job control, bullying, harassment, poor supervisor support, and isolated working.  You can find a copy here


Health and safety at home – Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum


In New Zealand, the Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum (the Forum) is leading the way and investing heavily in understanding mental wellbeing and producing resources to help its members to drive good mental health practices in their workplaces.


Notably, the Forum has teamed up with Dr Hillary Bennett, Director at Leading Safety, to produce a CEOs guide to mental health and wellbeing at work. The guide is excellent and well worth a read.  It establishes a four category approach for organisations to adopt to address mental wellbeing at work:

  1. Protect – identify risks in order to eliminate or minimise where practicable;
  2. Support – provide access to appropriate workplace and clinical support;
  3. Foster – develop the mental health and wellbeing capability of individuals and teams; and
  4. Reclaim – restore the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and teams.


The Forum has also produced a guide for CEOs and organisations on protecting mental wellbeing at work. This guide takes a deep-dive into the “Protect” approach to mental health and wellbeing, and provides a framework to design “good work” to protect and enhance mental wellbeing.


The resources produced by the Forum recognise that CEOs and other business leaders have a critical role to play in creating mentally healthy workplaces, because of the considerable influence they have over working conditions in their organisations that affect mental wellbeing.  You can check this out here




It is pleasing to see the initiatives underway here and abroad to address mental health and wellness issues in workplaces. This requires constant attention and resourcing as the challenges of modern work continue to expand and change.


Mental wellbeing and psychosocial risks are of increasing interest to WorkSafe, and businesses should expect to see enforcement action start being taken against those who fail to properly manage these risks.  This is already occurring in Australia.


If you have any questions or require advice about how you can ensure you are addressing risks to mental wellbeing in your workplace, please contact our team of health and safety experts who will be happy to assist. 

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