Work health and safety policy interventions
Increasing awareness and global dissemination of research which highlights the psychological harm associated with psychosocial risk factors has driven major developments in WHS public policy (Ertel et al., 2010; Leka et al., 2011; Levi, 2000). Legislated WHS policy has a critical function in driving organizations to accept responsibility for meeting specific requirements pertinent to employee health, predominantly through delineating specific legislated duties and regulations. Furthermore legislated WHS policy also provides a robust framework for WHS regulators to monitor workplace compliance in protecting employee health and safety and impose improvements (Johnstone et al., 2011). In addition to asserting juridical regulations, WHS policy also comprises less stringent voluntary approaches such as guidance material to help organizations on a more practical level (LaMontagne, 2003). Greater attention to psychological health in WHS policy has also preceded the creation of various psychosocial risk management tools that aim to translate statutory obligations into practice within organizations.
Evaluating the impact of WHS policy
Despite the widely acknowledged support for national policy interventions, and the immense time and resources devoted to their development and implementation, assessment of effectiveness has been largely overlooked in the academic literature (Leka et al., 2008; LaMontagne, 2003). In particular, many developments in national WHS policy have not been evaluated in relation to changes in perceptions of employees in relation to how their organization protects their health. The lack of evaluative research is commonly attributed to difficulties in acquiring representative and time-appropriate national data, and obtaining reliable enterprise-level indicators that will infer policy impact over time (WHO, 2004). Even in Europe, where occupational health policy approaches are deemed the most globally advanced, there is a notable deficiency in systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of national policy interventions (Leka et al., 2010, 2015a, 2015b, 2008) (see also Kompier, 2004; Murphy and Sauter, 2004; Schaufeli and Kompier, 2001; Taris et al., 2010). Some progress has been made by researchers involved in the innovative policy orientated research program, the European Framework for Psychosocial Risk Management (PRIMA-EF), with a series of national reviews to determine the policy impact on health and safety, and economic and social effects (see Leka et al., 2008). In addition, there have been several studies focused on evaluating the implementation process of the UK’s national policy HSE Management Standards to address work stress within organizations.
National surveillance systems on psychosocial risks and outcomes are an important means of monitoring the effectiveness of interventions and policies as highlighted by Dollard et al. (2007). National surveillance data is regarded as best practice for determining changes in the profile of work and psychosocial risk factors, as well as monitoring the progression and effectiveness of policy (Dollard et al., 2007). For example, within Europe, the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) 1 conducted in 2009 and the ESENER 2 in 2014 (EUOSHA, 2017) has been instrumental in ascertaining a detailed
understanding of work-related health at a national and industry level. ESENER 1 focused on interviews with the most experienced person in charge of health and safety in the workplace and the employee health and safety representatives. In ESENER 2 interviews were conducted with the person with the most knowledge about health and safety in the organization. Moreover, through the European PRIMA-EF project, Roozeboom et al. (2008) explored best practice indicators and provided future recommendations based on the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS; European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2002). Roozeboom et al. (2008) stated that whilst the EWCS indicator list provides a solid basis for assessing psychosocial risk management, the survey also lacks indicators focused on preventative action.
Overview of the Australian work health and safety policy framework and intervention
The Australian WHS policy framework is comprised of three distinct layers that constitute the formal legislation. At the highest level, the WHS Act establishes the general duties that are placed on various parties involved in the conduct of work. The WHS Act is supported by a framework of legislative instruments, including WHS Regulations and various approved Codes of Practice, which prescribe the duties and provide guidance to employers on how to meet the requirements of the Act (Safe Work Australia, 2012).
Overall the WHS Act has the core objective to protect the health, safety, and welfare of individuals who may be affected by work in any sector. The Regulations and Codes of Practice describe with greater specificity the practical action to be taken to ensure compliance (Stewart, 2013). At the second level, the WHS Regulations stipulate mandatory requirements for duty holders to meet as specified under the WHS Act (Safe Work Australia, 2012). The Regulations focus on various aspects pertaining to work health and safety including issues surrounding worker representation and participation and managing WHS risks and general workplace arrangements. In addition, the Regulations address hazardous work, such as falls, driving, electrical safety, as well as plant and structures, construction work, hazardous chemicals, asbestos, major hazard fatalities, and mines. At the third level, Codes of Practice generally provide two main functions: (1) they provide evidence that duty under the WHS laws has been met and are therefore admissible in court; and (2) they are a point of reference for inspectors when enforcing the legislation. In addition to these three layers, policymakers have also created voluntary guidance material to supplement these regulatory instruments in order to provide further explanation on how workplaces can meet compliance with the legal requirements.
Author: Rachael E. Potter, Maureen F. Dollard, Valerie O’Keeffe, Tessa Bailey , Stavroula Leka