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 T&Is?

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 T&I?

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

How does Work Health and Safety (WHS) apply to T&Is?
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 T&Is, 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 T&I practitioners 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, public servants, or language service provider call centre staff


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

High-conflict jobs

  • Examples: interpreting intense questioning, multiple parties, cases of grief, trauma or graphic detail, situations of high conflict, anger or violence, violence or aggression towards you or any other party

Lack of clarity about the boundaries of your role.

  • Example: being asked to ‘help’, told to fill in forms, sight translation, expected to witness documents or to sign declarations confirming someone has understood or agreed
Lack of control over information about the work that is assigned to you

  • Example: no briefing or background information, being sent to jobs you struggle to do well or that challenge your impartiality
Poor organisational justice

  • Example: being ‘blacklisted’ with no right of reply
Poor physical environment

  • Example: long working hours with no breaks, poor sound or vision, whispered simultaneous interpreting

Lack of reward, recognition or respect

  • Example: low wages, infrequent pay increases

Lack of professional support

  • Example: no briefing, no debriefing, being forced to work alone
Remote or isolated work

  • This could include interpreting by phone or video
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?

Join your union and talk about the issues.

We need to make sure that everyone is aware of the reality of psychosocial hazards in the work of translators and interpreters.

T&I practitioners recognise the importance of abiding by the ethical principle of confidentiality. However, our concern to protect the privacy of vulnerable community members can leave us vulnerable, vulnerable to suffering in silence.

T&I practitioners are conscious of the danger of being ‘blacklisted’ by language service providers. Our fear of retribution can prevent us from speaking up when we are treated badly. This is classic fear of intimidation; the very definition of a psychosocial hazard.

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

How do we make everyone aware of the reality of psychosocial hazards in the work of T&Is

1. Talk about it

A burden shared is a burden halved. Talking openly with your colleagues and fellow union members about what is happening to you raises awareness about these issues. As T&I practitioners, we all understand and are bound by the principle of confidentiality. There are ways to share without revealing identifying information, particularly with colleagues and fellow union members. The more we talk about these things, the more people will feel aware and comfortable addressing them.

2. Join your union

There is safety in numbers. If you are not a union member, join today. Union members have the benefit of solidarity and collective support. Being a union member means you have access to advice and support if you find yourself facing work health and safety, or any other issues at work. Things we cannot share with family or friends, we can share with colleagues who are also union members. Union members are acutely aware of the issues facing our industry and are always working actively to make things better, fairer and safer for T&I practitioners.

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 also sometimes get worse if they aren’t addressed.

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.

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]

As T&Is our work is often solitary, but as union members, we are never alone.

If you are not a union member, join today.