As an Occupational Health and Safety Consultant, I was shocked and deeply saddened to read this article in The Age dated 19 October by Erin Pearson about the “toxic” workplace at the Coroners Court and the tragic death by suicide of Principal in-house solicitor of Jessica Wilby, in September 2018.

This case highlights the urgent need for employers to take proactive steps to manage psychological risks in their workplaces, especially in high-stress and high-exposure environments.

One of the tools that can help employers to do this is the new Model Code of Practice for managing psychological risk, which was released by Safe Work Australia earlier this year. The code provides practical guidance on how to identify, assess and control factors that can harm the mental health of workers, such as work demands, job control, relationships, organisational change, trauma, and violence.

Another useful resource is ISO 45003, the first international standard for managing psychosocial risks at work, which was published in July. ISO 45003 provides a framework for integrating psychological health and safety into existing occupational health and safety management systems, and covers topics such as leadership, worker participation, policy development, risk assessment, prevention and intervention strategies, evaluation, and continual improvement.

Both the code and the standard emphasise the importance of a positive work culture that fosters trust, respect, fairness and support among workers and managers. They also recognize that psychological health and safety is not only a legal obligation, but also a business benefit, as it can improve productivity, performance, innovation, and retention.

I urge all employers to familiarise themselves with these documents and implement them in their workplaces. By doing so, they can not only avoid the devastating consequences of a “toxic” workplace, but also create a healthy and happy work environment for their workers.

But I also really like the United States’ Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Welbeing  which provides a helpful foundation for employers to build on. What I really like about this Framework is that it is person-centered and focusses more on the holistic needs of individuals (summed up in this clever illustration) rather than the pure risk management approach adopted by ISO 45003 and the Model Code of Practice.

Workplace Mental Health Wellbeing

This document also encourages employers to “Operationalise Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility” practices. This is music to my ears as a Neurodiversity Advocate!

Research has shown that the incidence of mental ill-health is 50% in the neurodivergent population as opposed to 25% in the neurotypical population. Since 15 – 20% of the global population is neurodivergent, with one or more specialist thinking skill, and 65% of these are of working age, it is likely that there are neurodivergent workers in every workplace.

Therefore, no workplace mental health program will be complete or effective in managing psychological health and safety risks unless they also explicitly detail how they will consult with neurodivergent workers about psychological risks in the workplace that they may experience differently and design work that effectively manages those risk.

The need for neuroinclusivity at work surpasses the need to report on DE&I quotas in the annual report. It is also not adequately dealt with under the Disability Discrimination or Anti-Discrimination Acts for reasons that are too complex to explain here.

In my opinion, for employers to effectively manage risk and discharge their primary duty of care they must actively integrate a neuroinclusive culture into their organisation. Because if you don’t consciously include, you unconsciously exclude about 1 in 5 of your workers who think, function, learn, communicate, regulate attention and emotion, perceive and respond to risk and experience the physical world around them differently from their neurotypical peers.

If you want to know more about this, why not sign up for our brand new Neurodiverse Safe Work Foundations Course!

This course provides the foundational information about neurodiversity, why it matters in employment, and some tools, skills, and resources to be able to create a workplace culture that is healthy, safe, and inclusive for all workers. The course includes 4 modules and can be completed in approximately four hours.

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