Duty of care

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For years companies have been focused on identifying hazards and risks in the workplace, but have they been doing one task well while the goalposts have been moved? We’re all getting much better at identifying hazards and reducing risks in the workplace, but has that been at the expense of our employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a consistent swing towards the importance of mental health, but unfortunately, many businesses are struggling to come to terms with the new WHS focus.

A recent article that was published in the Australian Institute of Company Directors has taken a very in-depth look at the role of company directors in safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, and it has highlighted some very interesting concerns.

The first case they looked at was where a Reporter was awarded $180,000 in damages after the County Court of Victoria judged in her favour in 2019. After being exposed to violent crime, court cases, threatening criminals, and other traumatic experiences, the Reporter developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Jennifer Wyborn, a partner at Clayton Utz, says the judgement “is putting employers on notice that there’s an expected minimum. Especially in the context of what would be regarded as a large employer, you should have an [employee assistance program], you should offer opportunities for debriefing. The risk of mental health injuries in particular professions is well known and must be proactively managed.

It's not the first case where an employee has been awarded damages based on their employer failing to understand the importance of mental health, and it won’t be the last.

It’s not just psychologically dangerous work duties that are under the microscope either. Employees around the world are more focused than ever on toxic workplace behaviour, and things like bullying, stress, abuse, and mental health are areas of importance. Company directors can’t be held responsible for every action which occurs at their company, but under WHS laws, there are requirements for a certain level of due diligence.

Smart employers across the country are now looking inwards at how they can improve mental health and wellbeing in their companies, and you might be surprised at some of the positive benefits of increasing mental health awareness.


What are some of the benefits associated with improving mental health in your workplace?

Studies around the world have already shown us that happy employees are more productive, take less time off work, reduced sick and personal leave, and are more likely to stay with their employer reducing employee turnover and training costs. Along with happier employees, you’ll be building brand awareness and loyalty and improving the overall good reputation of your company.

While it may be easy to walk around a worksite and identify safety hazards and risks, mental health and wellbeing are going to take a proactive approach that starts at the top and flows down to employees. Gone are the days of ‘it’ll be okay’ and ‘toughen up’ having any place in modern workplaces.


Mental health and wellbeing conclusion

You shouldn’t be expected to change the culture of your workplace overnight. Still, small and consistent steps need to be taken by employers towards less toxic workplaces and considering what effects doing specific jobs or roles may have on employees. Mental health and wellbeing are two of the most significant growth areas in the WHS sector, and if you leave it too late, it may be you that’s facing expensive and time-consuming worker’s compensation cases.

It’s essential that changes begin at the top, and employees are aware that their employers are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing. Small steps forward in the right direction are still steps and education, and awareness regarding mental health can be powerful tools for any company that’s focused on improving their employee’s health.





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