Canada Sets a New Psychological Health & Safety Standard

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1 Canada Sets a New Psychological Health & Safety Standard History was made earlier this year when Canada launched a new National Standard for Psychological Health & Safety in the workplace. A first of its kind in the world, it is the result of a collaborative effort between the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ). While a voluntary standard, it is poised to form the basis of corporate and social policies directed toward the protection of employee mental health. It provides tangible support to the oft perceived intangible work of the Human Resources profession. No longer just the right thing to do, this standard was born from the strong business case that informs corporate leaders it s also the smart thing to do. Work environments with a positive approach to their employee s mental health are socially responsible. They enjoy improved employee engagement and enhanced productivity. Employees want to work for and stay in companies where their psychological safety is considered. Further, companies experience reduced costs and improved risk management through a decrease in disability claims and absenteeism, enhanced productivity and fewer legal challenges. It makes dollars and sense. The standard is free and available for download here Psychological Health & Safety Standard s Origins Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians, or seven million fellow citizens, will experience a mental health problem this year, and many of these problems relate in some way to the workplace. In a summary of The Shain Reports from April 2010 (commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada), more clarity is given to these figures: If addictions are included, the total is about one in three, and adding stress and burnout raises the figure considerably higher again. Those affected are employees in their prime working years. In a 2008 study, mental health costs to the Canadian economy were estimated at $51 billion annually. The Shain reports states that Overall it is estimated that between $2.97 billion and $11 billion could be saved every year in Canada if mental injuries to employees attributable in whole or in part to negligent, reckless and intentional acts and omissions of employers, their agents and fellow employees were to be prevented. There is also a growing legal precedent. Where for decades employers have been required by law to protect employee s physical safety in the workplace; now, for the first time in Canadian history, employers are under pressure from an emerging legal duty to create and maintain not only a physically safe workplace, but also a psychologically safe workplace. Perhaps the protection white collar workers have been looking for? Employees who ve taken legal action are being rewarded to the tune of a 700% increase in damages paid out between 2005

2 2010. So while the standard is voluntary, the legal landscape is changing. The time has come for HR professionals to take notice and act. Links and Highlights of the Psychological Health & Safety Standard The Psychological Health & Safety Standard provides a systematic approach to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, including: the identification of psychological hazards in the workplace the assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (e.g. stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands) the implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace the growth of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace the implementation of measurement and review systems to ensure sustainability. "This Standard will help enable organizations to introduce measures that will assist them in meeting important internal objectives such as the promotion and protection of workers' wellbeing, job satisfaction, self esteem and job fulfilment objectives which have been clearly shown to also lead to improvement in the bottom line'," says Jean Rousseau, Director, Bureau de normalisation du Québec. The development of this Standard was funded in part by the Government of Canada (through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada), and through financial contributions from the Great West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and Bell Canada. The Standard has been approved by the Standards Council of Canada as a National Standard of Canada. Source: Psychological Health & Safety Standard: What does it mean for HR Professionals? For the next five years, the standard is being made available free of charge. Consider the intellectual capital that went into this document and the associated consulting fee if you were to have contracted it? Engaging a broad range of expertise on a challenging topic; stakeholders across Labour, Government, Mental Health, Corporate, Policy & Research and Standards created this standard on a consensus basis. Providing much more than background rationale, the Annexes of the standard provide tools to conduct a staged implementation, beginning with assessment. A rich source of resources is

3 referenced here including the Leadership Framework for Advancing Workplace Mental Health This means that even organizations with few resources can get started now. The standard is downloadable through this link: The Shain report summary indicates the overall implications are highly similar for unionized and non unionized contexts. Distinguishing Mental Injury, Mental Distress and Mental Illness All this talk of Psychological Health & Safety has many HR practitioners grasping for clarity. Mental Health is a broad umbrella that covers a lot of ground, some of which has nothing to do with the workplace. Just what is mental injury? Is it the same or different than mental illness? In legal terms, mental injury refers to suffering or distress resulting from negligent, reckless or intentional acts or omissions. It includes severe demoralization, disengagement and alienation. When such conduct occurs within the workplace, employers may be subject to some degree of legal liability. Mental distress or injury can be present without clinical diagnoses of mental illness. Employees do not always, or even often, need to prove they have a clinically diagnosable mental illness in order to win a legal claim for mental injury or suffering at work. In Canadian courts, mental injury in the workplace is simply harm to mental health that significantly affects the ability of employees to function at work and and/or at home. The full distinction can be found at One of many free resources designed to protect and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace. Removing the Mental Health Stigma the Journey Begins Formed in 2007 by the Harper Government, the Mental Health Commission of Canada s (MHCC) mandate included being a catalyst for mental health system transformation. One of eight advisory committees formed was the Workforce Advisory Committee. The Psychological Health & Safety Standard is a significant result of their efforts. Along with Media, Healthcare Providers, and Youth 12 18; the Workforce is one of four pillars of MHCC s Opening Minds initiative designed to shift people s negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviours around mental health problems and mental illnesses. Having a mental health problem or illness can be hard enough. Even harder is the stigma associated with these problems that prevents employees from seeking help. Many choose to go untreated rather than risk being labeled as unreliable, unproductive, and untrustworthy. The environment feels unsafe, so they face it alone and in silence. This needs to change. The cost of doing nothing includes absenteeism, presenteeism/lost productivity, disability claims, injuries/illnesses, grievances, turnover, and legal liability.

4 Yet with one out of every four to five employees affected by mental health issues each year, this is a very common problem that touches virtually everyone. Managers now have some tools to support them. To learn more about Opening Minds, look here Psychological Health & Safety: The Legal Perfect Storm Dr. Martin Shain s 2010 Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm report commissioned by the MHCC (Mental Health Commission of Canada) was foundational in laying out the legal landscape for the call to create psychologically safe workplaces. This perfect storm of liability for employers who fail to maintain a psychologically safe workplace was building strength in the proceedings of courts and tribunals in seven different Canadian legal contexts: human rights, labour law, employment contracts, employment standards, occupational health and safety, workers compensation, and torts and damages (common law). All the indicators showed that this storm would intensify. The arm of the law is now reaching into management of the employment relationship while it is still intact rather than just at the point of its dissolution. A further ominous development for employers is the rise of the class action suit. The MHCC reports explain how Canadian courts and tribunals are: Increasingly intolerant of workplace factors that threaten psychological safety. Ordering management to change workplace habits that threaten employees. Imposing dramatically increased financial punishments for transgressions. Reference: What is Meant by Psychological Health & Safety? A Psychologically safe workplace is a workplace that promotes workers psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways. Examples of psychologically unsafe workplace conditions are those that permit harassment, discrimination, verbal abuse, unfairness and disrespect. High job pressure, unreasonable deadlines over a long time and too little influence over day to day work could result in psychologically unsafe conditions. The attention now being paid to Psychological Health & Safety is reminiscent of another period in workplace history. Think back to the mid late nineteenth century in the latter part of the industrial revolution when workers were subject to environments where their physical safety was at risk with few protections. During this period, companies began looking to manage the

5 risk associated with new worker compensation systems. Companies provided workers compensation for bodily injury, in exchange for the employee relinquishing their right to sue their employer for negligence. Workplace safety has come a long way since then marks a new era for protections in mental injury in the workplace with the Psychological Health & Safety standard.

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