Australia is to introduce a new law to tackle hazards to mental health at work, in what unions have described as a ‘huge step forward’, with federal and state workplace health and safety ministers having agreed the need for the new law.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) welcomed the decision to regulate psychosocial hazards, saying it will have a significant impact in preventing mental illness, sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace.

The regulation on psychosocial hazards will place a positive obligation on employers to minimise and eliminate hazards to mental health from the workplace – just as they are required to in relation to physical hazards.

ACTU’s Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien

“Up to 45 per cent of mental health issues are attributable to work – requiring employers to take preventative action on this is a massive step forward. This will include tackling the causes of sexual harassment at work, a key step in making work safe for women,” according to ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien.

“Years of campaigning from working people and their unions, along with the support of mental health and gender equality organisations have gone into winning this regulation – it will make Australian workplaces safer for future generations of workers,” he added.

O’Brien said a failure to agree the need for nationwide industrial manslaughter law was a disappointment, with laws already in place in some states. “We will continue to fight for industrial manslaughter legislation. Workplaces in Tasmania, SA and NSW would be safer for workers if employers could be held accountable for preventable deaths. It should not matter what postcode your loved one dies in as to whether you receive justice,” he noted.