Many believe that mental health is an emerging work health and safety issue but considering the data, research and discussions with my clients, it is clear that mental health is already a significant issue in almost every Australian workplace. 
The seemingly intentional downing of the Germanwings Flight 4U9525 by its co-pilot recently has now thrown the issue of mental health and work into the spotlight.
My clients often talk about the difficulties in effectively managing mental health issues in the workplace and given our legal obligation to effectively eliminate and minimise both physical and mental health risks to workers and others, I believe its crucial to go back to basics and consider taking a risk management approach to tackling mental health.
The Problem
We know that 45% of Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. In a 12 month period, one in five Australians will experience a mental health condition and the same number report having taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in this period. Given there are approximately 11 million Australians in the work force that is potentially over 2 million workers with mental unwellness.
It has been revealed that mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces almost $11m, comprised of the cumulative costs of compensation claims, absenteeism and presenteeim (where someone is at work but less productive due to their mental health condition).
The data also tells us that some industries have a higher incidence of mental health conditions. The prevalence of mental health conditions is highest within the financial and insurance services industry, essential services (electricity, gas, water, waste services) and the information media and telecommunication industries.
What’s often seen in organisations is an ad hoc approach to managing mental health and a lack of a strategic, risk-based approach, the likes of which we see with the management of physical risks. Managing mental health risks also requires a different, subtler skill set from health and safety and human resources personnel. Organisations also have a need to move beyond just ‘awareness programs’ and to incorporate approaches that have a discernible impact on human resources and business performance.
Managing the Risk
Let’s take a risk management approach to tackling mental health.
Critical Success Factors
As always, it’s critical to review your risk controls occurs to ensure your programs are hitting the mark, addressing the hazard, and when your hazards or risks change (as they inevitably will), so should your risk control program.
There are a number of benefits that can be realised with research indicating that for every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health actions may generate $2.30 in benefits to an organisation.
Numerous targeted workplaces actions designed to promote mental health have been piloted, nationally and internationally, and proven to be effective. However the critical success factors for implementation of include the following:
Learn More
There are countless practical and innovative resources now available diagnostic tools, handouts, training programs and general information. These can be found through some of the following:
The Germanwings air disaster is a stark reminder that we are all responsible for influencing the mental health and well being of people at work.
To discuss your physical or mental workplace health and safety issues and potential solutions, please get in touch with our team at Shared Safety and Risk on (02) 9340 4067 or 0412 259 782.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning beyondblue on 1300 22 4636; Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2007 National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey (NMHWS)
  • State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia, TNS and Beyond Blue 2014
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Labour Force Data February 2015BS labour force
  • Price Waterhouse Coopers (2014) Creating mentally healthy workplaces return on investment analysis’.
    Accessed online from may-2014.pdf
  • Monash University, Labour Market Costs of Mental Illness in Australia, 2012