The Australian Workplace Barometer: Psychosocial safety climate and working conditions in Australia

Edited by Maureen F. Dollard & Tessa S. Bailey

Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety, University of South Australia

Work related stress represents a huge cost for worker health and ­productivity and is broadly regarded as an important social ­determinant of global health.

Over the past five decades, knowledge of the the causes of work-related illnesses and injuries has grown dramatically. Unfortunately, understanding how to use this knowledge for psychosocial risk prevention and intervention has failed to keep pace.

The Australian Workplace Barometer (AWB) project was developed in order to provide national benchmarks needed to set best practice standards in the area of worker psychological health and wellbeing. The results as published in this book:

  • Provide nationally representative data on psychosocial risk levels and working conditions
  • Build upon existing knowledge and understanding of psychosocial risk factors such as bullying and harassment, and work-family conflict
  • Investigate relationships between psychosocial risk and workplace outcomes such as employee health and productivity
  • Determine the cost of poor employee wellbeing to businesses based on aspects such as depression, absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Identify industries and occupations at risk, and
  • Provide evidence to support strategies for prevention and intervention.

This book provides a step towards social action and work environments that will stimulate problem solving, creativity and innovation at work rather than despair through compromised health and wellbeing.


by Joseph J. Hurrell Jr., Ph.D.

St. Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Over the past five decades, knowledge of the causes of work-related illnesses and injuries has grown dramatically. Unfortunately, understanding of how to utilise this knowledge for prevention and intervention purposes has failed to keep pace. This is especially alarming given not only the enormous human toll of work-related illnesses and injuries but their massive drain on national economies. It’s abundantly clear that employees, their employers and society as a whole bear the costs of health problems that have their origins at work and that these enormous costs could be reduced by worksite based preventive measures. However, work remains a vastly underutilised "tool” for use in improving health and wellbeing and stemming and reducing health-related costs. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of occupational stress, where psychosocial risk factors are universally recognised as exacting tremendous costs to both worker health and productivity. In Australia, as in various other countries, psychological injury claims resulting from exposure to psychosocial risk factors are increasing and the costs of these claims are considerably higher than other injuries because they often involve longer periods of time away from work and higher medical, legal and other payments (Comcare, 2013).

It seems clear that any strategy for preventing health disorders has a central need for ongoing surveillance of the disorders and their risk factors to detect and react to emerging problems and to guide and evaluate interventions aimed at their prevention. While the need for surveillance in the job stress arena has long been recognised (Sauter, Murphy & Hurrell, 1990), very few job stress surveillance systems currently exist and there is a particular need for systems that include measures of known work-related psychosocial risk factors for health. The Australian Workplace Barometer (AWB), based upon Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) theory, described in this book offers a promising new approach to job stress surveillance and prevention. Because it provides nationally representative data on a wide range of both health outcomes and their known work-related psychosocial risk factors, the AWB offers a highly useful "compass” to guide the development, targeting and evaluation of primary, secondary and tertiary job stress prevention efforts at the national, state and industry levels in Australia. It is my hope that the book will serve this purpose.


About the Author


Maureen F. Dollard PhD is Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology and Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety at the University of South Australia. She is Foundation President of the Asia Pacific Academy for Psychosocial Factors at Work, and is Co-chair of the International Commission on Occupational Health-Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors, Scientific Committee. She was chair of the ICOH-WOPS conference in Adelaide September 2014. Her research and consultancy is in the area of work stress and she holds a PhD on the topic. Her main theoretical contribution is Psychosocial Safety Climate theory. She has worked with human service workers, correctional officers, Salvation Army officers, call centre workers, ambulance officers, nurses, farmers and police officers, and has developed best practice models in psychological injury prevention and management. She has published three edited books and over 140 book chapters and refereed journal articles in the area. She serves on the beyondblue Workplace Mental Health Advisory Group and is on several international journal editorial boards (Journal of Organisational Behavior; the European Journal of Work, and Organisational Psychology; Work & Stress). Since 2000 she has held 16 nationally competitive research grants and numerous industry grants together totalling $6.3 million. Maureen is a frequent speaker at national and international venues and was keynote speaker at the European Conference of the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology in Dublin 2006.

Tessa S. Bailey completed her Masters in Work and Organisational Psychology, is a registered psychologist, and PhD Candidate. She has worked in the areas of human resource management, injury preventions, and injury management within public and private sectors. Tessa's interests in psychosocial safety climate and worker psychological injury prevention have led to her current appointment as a Research Assistant for the Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety, and Manager of the Australian Workplace Barometer project. She is an author of a highly cited paper titled 'National Surveillance of Psychosocial Risk Factors in the Workplace: An International Overview' which examined psychosocial surveillance systems from around the world. Her work on the AWB project has resulted in a number of journal articles, reports and book chapter publications including co-editor of this volume. She has also has presnted her papers at numerous national and international conferences. Tessa has commenced her PhD in the area of 'Psychosocial risk prevention and intervention: Turning psychosocial safety climate theory into practice'. In addition she is the Executive Officer of the Asia Pacific Academy for Psychosocial Factors at Work and Organsing Commitee Chair of the International Commission on Occupational Health: Work Organization and Psychosocial Factors 2014 Congress, Adelaide.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • About the Editors 
  • List of Authors 
  • Overview 
  • Chapter 1 The economic burden and legal framework of work stress in Australia 
  • Chapter 2 Surveillance system for psychosocial risk and testing the Australian Workplace Barometer theoretical model 
  • Chapter 3 The methodology associated with collection of AWB data 
  • Chapter 4 Demographics: National data from the AWB 
  • Chapter 5 AWB Benchmarks: PSC, demands, resources, health and productivity outcomes 
  • Chapter 6 Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) and implications for Australian industries 
  • Chapter 7 Differences in the psychosocial work environment, engagement, and psychological health according to age 
  • Chapter 8 Urban and rural differences in worker demands, health and engagement 
  • Chapter 9 Prevalence, antecedents and implications of workplace bullying and harassment in Australia 
  • Chapter 10 Work-family conflict in the Australian working population 
  • Chapter 11 The impact of the psychosocial work environment on worker health and wellbeing 
  • Chapter 12 Outcomes that influence workplace productivity: Sickness absence, presenteeism and engagement 
  • Chapter 13 Estimating lost productivity costs from poor psychological health in the workplace 
  • Chapter 14 Psychosocial and health risk by industry in Australia 
  • Chapter 15 Occupational risk; Job strain and gender differences 
  • Chapter 16 Psychosocial risk prevention: Best practice standards internationally and in Australia 
  • Chapter 17 Psychosocial hazard management and the Psychosocial Safety Climate Hierarchy of Control (PSC-HOC)