Psychological Health and Safety: An Action Guide for Employers

On April 27, 2012, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) launched Psychological Health and Safety: An Action Guide for Employers to help Canadian employers protect their employees’ mental health. The guide was co-authored by Merv Gilbert, PhD, and Dan Bilsker, PhD, from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, with support from MHCC’s Workforce Advisory Committee.

The guide is meant to promote mental health concerns in Canada by helping employers understand the critical role workplaces play in the psychological health of all Canadians in recovery and prevention and the expanding impact on the safety, productivity and effectiveness of the workplace, which I’ve discussed previously on Slaw here and here.

Among other things, the guide outlines 24 practical actions as well as recommendations employers (of all sizes and in any sector or location) can take.

Employers are increasingly identifying the need to promote psychologically healthy and safe workplaces but are asking, ‘what can be done?’ The Action Guide is based on the latest scientific evidence and professional practices. It provides employers with logical implementation steps and recommendations that are practical, accessible and actionable, Bilsker says.

According to the MHCC:

The Guide will also inform the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, a voluntary standard for workplace mental health to be released later this year by the MHCC in collaboration with the Bureau de normalisation du Québec and the CSA Standards.

How does the guide work?

The guide is intended for employers, HR, managers, owners who are considering programs and policies to improve psychological health in their organizations, unions, legal and regulatory professionals, consultants and others with a stake in maintaining the psychological health and safety of workers.

It is based on a “P6” framework developed to be consistent with the widely accepted International Standards Organization (ISO) approach to organizational quality improvement, which consists of six successive components:

  • Policy: Commitment by organizational leadership to enhance psychological health and safety through workplace interventions
  • Planning: Determination of key psychological health indicators across the organization, selection of actions and specification of objectives
  • Promotion: Actions taken to promote the general psychological health of the workforce
  • Prevention: Actions taken to prevent the occurrence of significant psychological problems or mental disorders—may occur at the primary, secondary or tertiary level
  • Process: Evaluation of implementation and results of actions taken to enhance psychological health and safety
  • Persistence: Sustainment of effective actions in a process of continuous improvement

Each component suggests three actions to consider (based on research, evidence and best practices in the field of psychological health and safety).

The guide explains how to implement each action and provides other useful information and links to useful tools (web-based, primarily Canadian and at no or minimal cost) for supporting its implementation.

Why the need for such standards and guidelines?

In 2010, a National Roundtable on Occupational Health and Safety with a focus on mental health in the workplace indicated that 75 percent of the new jobs coming on stream in the Canadian economy require cerebral rather than manual skills, and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders, among others, have been growing in numbers and are most common among men and women in their prime working ages.

Furthermore, recent court rulings are holding employers accountable for the psychological health of their employees and placing responsibility on businesses to adequately and effectively deal with psychosocial risk factors that manifest in the workplace.

However, current laws, regulations, standards, guidelines and other tools are inadequate to help employers deal with these issues that greatly impact the productivity of their employees and to support their staff. The MHCC hopes its guide will introduce mental health awareness and promotion to Canada’s workplaces, and lead them to greater success. The benefits of psychologically healthy employees are too great to ignore, and the risks of unhealthy employees, too dangerous.

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