What is Work Health and Safety (WHS)?

Work health and safety (sometimes called occupational health and safety) is how we manage risks to the health and safety of everyone at work.

Under Australian law, we all have a right to a safe workplace.

The law also says that we all have a responsibility to work safely.

Those two things together mean that if you see or experience unsafe things or unsafe practices in a workplace, you have a right and a responsibility to speak up.

The law says that if you speak up, there is an expectation that unsafe things and unsafe practices in your workplace will be made safe for you.

This guide will help you to understand the following:

> How does Work Health and Safety (WHS) apply to pharmacists?

What is a psychosocial hazard?

What are the signs of psychosocial harm?

What can I do to prevent these issues from even arising in the first place?

How do we make everyone aware of the reality of psychosocial hazards in the work of pharmacists?

> What should I do right now if I am experiencing harm at work?

How does Work Health and Safety (WHS) apply to pharmacists?
When you think of work health and safety, you probably think of a building or mine site, loose electrical cables, or some other physical work or hazard. When you think of risk or harm or injury, you probably think of falls or sprains or broken bones; in other words, harm to your physical health.

Under the law, mental health and wellbeing are equally as important as physical health.

In our work as pharmacists, we are much more likely to suffer psychological harm than physical harm. That is why it’s important that we can identify what psychological harm is and when it’s happening.

Situations at work that can cause psychological harm are called psychosocial hazards.
What is a psychosocial hazard?
A hazard is something which has the potential to cause you injury or ill-health.

Any work situation or location that might affect your mental health could be a psychosocial hazard. Below is a list of examples where we as pharmacists might find a psychosocial hazard at work.

Note that this is not a complete list, these are only some examples. You should not ignore a hazard at work because it is not on this list. Always seek help if you need it.

Bullying  or intimidation

  • This could be from anyone at work, including management, colleagues, customers or members of the general public.


  • This is any behaviour that you find offensive, humiliating, intimidating, or that you simply do not want.

Job demands

  • Job demands that are too high, such as long hours and fast pace are a psychosocial risk. Shift work, clients with challenging behaviours and exposure to traumatic events are all issues related to job demand.

Poor organisational justice

  • Is everyone treated fairly in the workplace? Organisational justice covers a range of issues from pay equity, treatment by superiors, fair rostering, and equitable access to training. Where unfairness is present in a workplace it can become a psychosocial hazard.

Inadequate reward and recognition

  • Occurs where there is an imbalance between the efforts of the employee and the reward. This can be as simple as a lack of positive feedback or ingrained systemically such as skills being underutilised and a lack of opportunity for developing new skills.

Poor change management

  • Poor organisational change management consists of issues where employers take inadequate measures to prevent negative impacts of change. This may include a lack of consultation and communication.
Lack of organisational support

  • Poor support is also a psychosocial hazard in itself. Poor support can mean a lack of emotional support or a lack of practical support such as not having the time, resources or training to do the work, or a lack of information or policies.
What are the signs of psychosocial harm?
You may have suffered psychosocial harm if you regularly find yourself doing some or several of these things:

  • avoiding situations, environments, people, or activities that trigger strong emotions
  • being unable to keep unpleasant memories from returning
  • detaching from some aspects of your work
  • feeling emotionally exhausted; lacking energy or emotional resources
  • feeling that the world is unsafe or that life has lost meaning
  • feeling very anxious, even ‘jumpy’
  • having a low opinion of your own ability or accomplishments
  • having difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • lacking motivation
What can I do to prevent these issues from even arising in the first place?

1. Join your union

There is safety in numbers. If you are not a union member, join today link. Union members have the benefit of legal support alongside solidarity and collective support. Being a union member means you have access to advice if you find yourself facing work health and safety, or any other issues at work.

2. Talk about it

We need to make sure that everyone is aware of the reality of psychosocial hazards in the work of pharmacists. A burden shared is a burden halved. Talking openly with your colleagues and fellow union members about what is happening can help in finding solutions and improvements.

3. Raise issues when they happen

Don’t suffer in silence. You are not responsible for the harm that may affect you at work. Many of these issues are the kind that don’t resolve themselves and can get worse if they aren’t addressed. Contact your union organiser who can help you find the path to addressing these issues within your workplace.

We need to combat this by sticking together, discussing the issues together, and fixing the problems together.

What should I do right now if I am experiencing harm at work?

Any time a physical or psychosocial hazard is identified, it must be reported.

Union members are acutely aware of the issues facing our industry and are always working actively to make things better, fairer and safer for all pharmacists.

If you think work has affected your wellbeing, here’s what you need to do:

1. Make an appointment with your GP

This is a critical step to ensure that you are looking after your health and also to have a medical record of what is happening at work.

2. Lodge an incident report

This is another critical step to ensuring something is done about the hazard. Your employer should have a form you can fill out to formally lodge an incident report. It is important that you do this while the situation is fresh in your mind. If your employer doesn’t immediately give you the form, make your own note about what happened.

Include the following information:

  • Time
  • Date
  • Location of the incident
  • What happened
  • Was any injury caused?
  • What was the cause of the incident?
  • Any witnesses
  • Your signature and the date

3. Contact your Organiser

It’s a good idea to have a chat with your Organiser about what has happened and what steps you have taken. They can’t give you medical advice but they can provide you with support through the process and help assess if this is an issue that affects your colleagues too.

If you don’t know who your Organiser is, email [email protected]
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