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Mental health hazards at work

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All workplaces should be cruelty free. Mental health hazards at work is important reading.

The stats and dark underbelly behind mental health hazards at work

The mental health hazards that Australian face at work are now regarded with the same gravity as physical hazards. In the last few years, they have become a prime focus for the nation’s lawmakers and employers. This is not only due to their impact on workers’ health, but also because of the costs of workers’ compensation claims for employers.

According to a 2024 report from SafeWork Australia, mental health conditions account for an increasing percentage of serious workers’ compensation claims. In 2021-22, there were 11,700 serious claims, making up nine per cent of all claims. This was a 36.9 per cent increase from 2017-18.

When it comes to claims arising from mental health hazards at work, the most common condition cited in 2021-22 was anxiety or stress disorders. This accounted for almost half (45.8 per cent) of serious workers’ compensation claims. The report also revealed that 57.8 per cent of all serious mental health claims were made by women.

SafeWork CEO highlights mental hazards at work

With the launch of SafeWork Australia’s report in March 2024, its CEO Marie Boland called for employers to improve the way they manage “psychosocial” hazards at work. “Proactively managing psychosocial hazards at work not only protects workers, it also benefits businesses by improving organisational performance and productivity,” she said.

Ms Boland also emphasised that “psychosocial hazards and risks are treated the same as physical hazards and risks,” under Australian model work health and safety laws.

Stop-violence-sign.-Mental-health-hazards-at-work
Violence in the workplace still occurs. We know this we get the calls. Alot of this goes unreported to worksafe or the police. The fear of employees losing their jobs is a major concern in what will they put up with in the workplace

Mental health hazards are costing employers big

The report revealed that mental health hazards at work are costing Australia’s employers significant time and money. In 2020-21, the median compensation paid for a serious mental health claim was $58,615. For claims relating to injury and disease, the median was just $15,743. SafeWork figures also show that mental health hazards are costing employers far more in time too.

The median time lost for mental health conditions per serious claim was 34.2 working weeks per serious claim. For injury and disease claims, the median time lost was just 8 working weeks. Claims that involved suicide or attempted suicide by far had the highest median compensation paid, at $81,641. These claims also resulted in a median lost time of 36 working weeks.

The main types of mental health hazards at work

In 2021-22, around 10,918 serious mental stress workers’ compensation claims were made to SafeWork Australia. The most common type of claim resulted from work related harassment or bullying. This amounted to over a quarter of claims (27.5 per cent).

Work pressure was the next most common mental health hazard at work, accounting for 25.2 per cent of claims. This was followed by exposure to workplace or occupational violence, accounting for 16.4 per cent of claims.

Female-employee-showing-signs-of-distress.
This is mental abuse. Threatened with dismissal again. Clearly the female employee is distressed however the employer will not stop with their actions. Some supervisors and managers just want to see how far they can ‘push’ the employee. Resigning in these circumstances may constitute being forced to resign. Get advice.

Mental health hazards rife in health care sector

Data from the National Disability Scheme (NDS) reveals that serious claims for mental health conditions are dominated by three industries. Between 2017-18 and 2021-22, the health care and social assistance sector had the greatest number of serious claims, with over 14,000. This amounted to 25.8 per cent of all claims in Australia. The sector is, however, the largest in the nation.

The most likely mental health hazard for health and social assistance workers was bullying or harassment. In 2021-22, these workers made up 25.7 per cent of all claims for this reason.

Police, fire workers

The public administration and safety sector had the second highest number of claims with over 12,000. This accounted for 23.4 per cent of all claims in Australia. It also had the greatest increase in claims over the five-year period. The sector includes police, fire, emergency services, security and correctional services workers.

Exposure to a traumatic event was the key mental health hazard in this industry, which accounted for 36.4 per cent of all such claims in 2021-22. Work pressure was another prominent hazard. The sector accounted for 27.3 per cent of all such claims in Australia in 2021-22.

Education workers

The education and training industry had the third highest amount of claims, with over 7,000. This amounted to 13.7 per cent of all claims. Work pressure is the biggest mental health hazard in this sector, which accounted for 18.8 per cent of all such claims.

To put all the above figures in perspective, the industry with the fourth highest number of claims, transport, postal and warehousing, had over 2,000.

Female-employee-breathing-a-sigh-of-relief.-Mental-health-hazards-at-work.
Female employee breathing a sigh of relief. She has the threat of being dismissed and being yelled at her all the time.

Hospital cafe boss fined over $300K for inflicting psychological injury

As SafeWork’s report showed, mental health hazards are rife in the health sector. One recent court case provides an example of the sort of abuse that workers in the sector experience. In October 2023, the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court fined the boss of two hospital coffee shops and his two associated companies a total of $290,000. This was for their involvement in multiple cases of sexual harassment against staff members.

The court convicted the boss, who remains unnamed, of two charges of failing to maintain a safe workplace under his control. The boss was fined $40,000 for these charges. Whitelom Investments Pty Ltd, of which the boss was the sole director, faced fines totaling $110,000. Another company, Whitelom Pty Ltd, also operated by the boss as a joint director, was fined $140,000. Both companies were found guilty of failing to ensure a safe workplace.

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Work life balance is so important. The threat of being sacked, or endure being harasssed is unacceptable. Take your issues to the Fair work system to get justice or get the issues sorted out.

Workers suffered physical and verbal sexual harassment

The investigation into the mental health hazards at these workplaces commenced in April 2021. This was after a complaint was lodged regarding persistent sexual harassment by the boss. The court heard disturbing testimonies from six workers, some as young as 16, who were subjected to physical and verbal sexual harassment.

The harassment ranged from inappropriate touching and groping to sexually suggestive comments. Shockingly, the harassment had been ongoing since 2014, highlighting a systemic issue within the workplaces. Despite the existence of an online bullying and harassment policy, employees lacked clear avenues for reporting incidents. None of the employees understood whom they could complain to, reflecting a lack of adequate procedures to address such behaviors.

“It doesn’t get much lower than a boss who preys on his own young workers, some still in school and starting their first jobs, for his own sexual gratification,”

said Narelle Beer, Executive Director of Health and Safety at WorkSafe Victoria.
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Look after yourself. Call us if we can help in your workplace concerns. You do not have to put up with workplace harassment

Bully boss who slapped worker hung from crane cops $60K fine

Another case that highlights the mental health hazards that Australian employees suffer at work involved a boss who bullied two young apprentices. In December 2023, the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court fined Steven Yousif, the sole director of Melbourne Glass Solutions Pty Ltd, a total of $60,000. He was also ordered to pay over $6,000 in legal costs.

Mr Yousif faced charges under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work. The court heard disturbing testimonies detailing how Mr Yousif subjected the two apprentices to physical violence, verbal insults, threats and intimidation. The abuse took place between March 2019 and May 2021.

“I felt like a piece of meat about to get cut”

One apprentice, 23-year-old Ilyas Elkharraz, endured verbal insults, threats of dismissal and physical harm during his two years working for Mr Yousif. This included an incident at a Christmas party in 2020 which was filmed and subsequently went viral on social media. The video showed Mr Yousif slapping Mr Elkharraz while he was hanging upside down from a crane. The video prompted WorkSafe Victoria to launch an investigation into Mr Yousif.

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Young apprentice being hung upside down.

“I felt like a piece of meat about to get cut,”

Mr Elkharraz told A Current Affair about the incident.

The court found that he had suffered more than two years of “demeaning and belittling” bullying behaviour. As a consequence of the bullying, the apprentice faced ongoing mental health struggles. This included suicidal thoughts, anxiety, stress, embarrassment, fear and depression.

Another apprentice, who worked for Mr Yousif for approximately 12 months, was similarly abused. He was subjected to verbal insults, threats of dismissal and was prevented from attending training.

“Campaign of terror:” Court slams boss

The WorkSafe Victoria investigation revealed that Melbourne Glass lacked adequate policies and procedures to manage workplace bullying risks. And that this allowed Mr Yousif’s conduct to persist unchecked. It was deemed reasonably practicable for the company to have provided and maintained an adequate workplace bullying policy.

When sentencing Mr Yousif, the court described his behaviour as a “campaign of terror against two vulnerable workers.” His lawyer told the court that his business had suffered because of media coverage. However, the court found there was “no evidence” of any downturn for the company. It is serious misconduct by any standard.

“I consider your offending to be very serious and your culpability very high,” the court said when sentencing Mr Yousif.

Employee-being-harassed-at-work.
A manager threatening manual worker who is cleaning the floor. all employees have rights. Don’t suffer in silence.

Company and director fined $40,000 for workplace bullying

Let’s look at another recent case where an employer was severely punished for failing to prevent mental health hazards at work. In March 2024, Melbourne signage firm Printco (Aust) Pty Ltd and its director, Neil Pearson, were fined a combined $40,000. They had been convicted by the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Both parties had pleaded guilty to charges related to workplace bullying. 

Printco was fined $20,000 for failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work. Mr Pearson, meanwhile, was fined $20,000 for failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. They were also collectively ordered to pay $9,309 in legal costs.

Contractor was bullied for four years

The court heard how Mr Pearson had subjected a subcontractor to a distressing pattern of mental health hazards. This included verbal abuse, intimidation and threats over a period of four years. The situation reached a climax during a phone call in August 2021, which was recorded by the subcontractor. Mr Pearson’s aggressive conduct during the call was marked by yelling, swearing and abuse. This left the subcontractor feeling anxious and mentally injured, rendering them unable to work.

A site inspection by WorkSafe Victoria inspectors revealed that the subcontractor was not the sole victim of Mr Pearson’s inappropriate behavior. The authority found that Printco had implemented policies and procedures to address workplace bullying. However, these measures were deemed to be inadequate. They lacked information on reporting inappropriate behavior as well as definitions or examples of bullying. Printco’s employees also had not received any training on issues surrounding workplace bullying.

Doctor-holding-a-sign-up-high-that-says-health.-Your-health-and-well-being-matters.
Doctor holding a sign up high that says health. Your health and wellbeing matter.

Court hands down punishment

The court determined that it was reasonably practicable for Printco and Mr Pearson to have established and maintained a safe system of work. This system of work should have allowed for behaviour like bullying to be identified, reported, investigated and prevented.

“WorkSafe will simply not tolerate this sort of abhorrent behaviour in any Victorian workplace, particularly when it is perpetrated by those in positions of power,” WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said.

Conclusion to: Mental health hazards at work

Have you suffered bullying or harassment at work?

If you have faced the effects of mental hazards at work, give our team at A Whole New Approach a call. AWNA are not lawyers but the nations leading workplace advisors and commentators. We can help you hold your employer accountable and receive the compensation you deserve.

We have helped over 16,000 workers from across the country take action via the Fair Work Commission and SafeWork authorities. If you have faced unfair dismissal, discrimination, bullying, harassment or another workplace rights violation, we can help.

Feel free to call our expert team on 1800 333 666 for a free and confidential conversation.

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