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15.1 Introduction to managing mental wellbeing risks

This section offers guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) on managing the mental health risks associated with road and roadside work.

PCBUs have a duty of care for their workers’ mental wellbeing as well as their physical health and safety.

Mental harm may be immediate or long-term. It can come from a single event or repeated exposure. Many potential risks to worker mental wellbeing can be eliminated or minimised by PCBUs working together at the planning and design stages of road and roadside work. 

15.2 Risk factors for mental harm to road and roadside workers

Causes of mental harm can be grouped into three main areas. When doing a risk assessment, consider any potential risk factors in the following areas. 

How the work is designed

Examples of risk factors include:

  • job demands – conflicting demands, repetitive tasks
  • workload and pace – unreasonable deadlines
  • work schedules – shift work, night work, working away from home
  • organisational change – poor communication, lack of information about the project or job
  • long periods of remote or isolated work. 

Social factors at work

Examples of risk factors include:

  • threats of violence or acts of violence (especially from road users affected by road or roadside work)
  • bullying, harassment, poor interpersonal relationships at a worksite (this risk can increase when there are multiple PCBUs working at a site)
  • lack of supervision or support, or conflicting directions (especially when there are multiple PCBUs and it is unclear who controls the worksite). 

The work environment, equipment, and hazardous tasks

Examples of risk factors include:

  • working in extreme environmental conditions
  • having to use inadequate or faulty plant, equipment, or tools
  • responding to crash or trauma situations (such as witnessing injuries and death at vehicle crash scenes). 

Any of the above risk factors can affect workers physically and mentally, and can result in:

  • increased stress levels
  • decreased emotional wellbeing
  • reduced coping strategies
  • lower work performance
  • impaired performance
  • increased absence
  • low morale
  • more mistakes being made
  • resignations
  • self-harm
  • suicide. 

15.3 Control measures for mental harm

Creating a mentally healthy work environment is the best way to prevent mental harm.

As described below, there are some proactive and practical steps you can take to eliminate or reduce exposure to events or situations that may trigger stress or mental harm. These control measures will promote a mentally healthier work environment. 

Consider how the work is designed

Examples of control measures include:

  • managing job demands – making sure there are enough workers to cover breaks and limiting time scheduled on repetitive tasks
  • managing workload and pace – making sure completion timeframes are reasonable and realistic. If timeframes prove to be unachievable, they should be renegotiated. Avoid putting pressure on workers to get the job complete in less time than it can be safely done
  • managing work schedules – making sure shift design and work hours give enough time for rest and recovery between shifts. Give workers advance notice of when shift times will change. Consult with workers about work schedules where possible
  • establishing role clarity – making sure all workers have a clear understanding of their role within the business, and within the contracting chain
  • consulting with workers about their needs if working away from home
  • providing practical support and a means for workers to stay socially connected when doing remote or isolated work. 

Consider social factors at work

Examples of control measures include:

  • creating a positive work environment where good relationships exist and workers are encouraged and supported. Promote workplace dignity, respect, and the upholding of one’s mana
  • minimising face to face contact between workers and road users where possible (for example, by using automated stop/go lights so workers cannot be abused by road users for delaying their travel)
  • having policies in all contracts throughout the contracting chain that set out:
    • the PCBU’s policies on stress, bullying, and violence
    • how to report instances of stress, bullying, and violence
    • the steps the PCBU will take to address stress, bullying, and violence
    • a plan on how these policies will be communicated to workers.
  • having a clear escalation process for dealing with issues. Workers should know who they can raise concerns with (for example, their manager, Health and Safety Representative, or union representative)
  • making sure managers are accessible and available to workers
  • making sure workers are given fair and timely feedback on their performance (both positive and constructive feedback)
  • considering conflict management or de-escalation training, for example for when workers are:
    • dealing with the public who may be held up by road works
    • raising issues with other contractors, subcontractors, or co-workers, or responding to issues raised by other contractors, subcontractors, or co-workers.
  • where possible, being aware of personal circumstances that affect your workers and provide support as appropriate. Allow flexibility or time off where needed
  • being proactive about providing worker support and normalise asking for help. See Section 15.5 Access to worker support services below.

Consider the work environment, equipment, and hazardous tasks

Examples of control measures include:

  • rotating workers on tasks that have extreme environmental conditions
  • making sure workers have all the resources they need to do the job properly and safely
  • providing effective debriefs and support for workers who have responded to crashes or trauma situations (such as witnessing injuries and death at vehicle crash scenes). See Section 15.4 Support for workers who are exposed to vehicle crashes/trauma situations below
  • consulting with workers regularly about ways that hazardous tasks can be eliminated or minimised. 

15.4 Support for workers who are exposed to vehicle crashes or traumatic situations

Road and roadside work can include road crews that provide support to emergency responders at road incidents, such as vehicle crashes. The nature of this work may mean workers are exposed to traumatic situations that can cause mental harm.

Where reasonably practicable, exposure to these situations should be minimised. Ways this can be done include:

  • limiting the number of people who witness the scene. Workers that are not directly involved should be kept away
  • identifying the roles and responsibilities of those who will step up if a situation occurs
  • developing a trauma response plan that covers these situations and how they will be handled. 

Make sure there are practices in place to provide support for these workers, so they do not suffer mental harm as a result. Examples of practices include:

  • training managers in mental health first aid. For example, training managers in how to debrief effectively so that workers share how they are feeling and recommend ways of seeking help
  • considering the cultural needs of your workers. For example, Māori workers may wish to have the tapu lifted at the site of a fatality before feeling spiritually safe to continue work at that site
  • emphasising the importance of workers looking out for each other
  • promoting a work environment that encourages workers to seek help by:
    • making sure workers know where they can get extra support
    • emphasising the confidentiality of support services to make sure there is fair and easy access for all workers. See Section 15.5: Access to worker support services below.
  • educating workers (and their families) about effective coping strategies for workers and ways they can reduce the effects of trauma on family members
  • where possible, rotating workers between tasks, so they have a break from responding to these types of jobs. 

Even workers that are not specifically tasked with providing support to emergency responders may find themselves responding to, or witnessing, an emergency during the course of doing their job.

PCBUs should consider including incident response training for all workers. Training should include:

  • guidance on what to do in emergency or trauma situations
  • how to deal with the emotional aftermath of witnessing traumatic situations
  • where and how they can seek help for themselves if needed. 

15.5 Access to worker support services

Support services should be available to all workers (such as employee assistance programmes).

PCBUs may need to actively facilitate access to these services. If workers are working long shifts or nights (meaning they should be resting during the day), they may find it difficult to access these services without assistance from their employer. They may be reluctant to access them during their limited personal and family time.

Where reasonably practicable, PCBUs should allow for workers to access support services during paid work time. Especially if the need for help has been triggered by work factors. 

15.6 More information on worker mental health