Columns / Best Practices

Don’t ignore mental health issues

Canada’s new standard can be a model

This past January 2013, Canada became the first country in the world to issue a standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The standard: CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 can be found (free download) at the link at the end of this article.

The following provides a summary of Canada’s standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace — with the end objective to help you determine if adoption of the standard at your workplace would be beneficial.

Benefits

According to the Canadian standard, reasons for managing workplace psychological issues include: “Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety are better able to recruit and retain talent, have improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity, are more creative and innovative, and have higher profit levels. Other positive impacts include a reduction of several key workplace issues including the risk of conflict, grievances, turnover, disability, injury rates, absenteeism and performance, or morale problems.”

Layout

Canada’s standard follows the familiar Deming “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle for continuous improvement in a process. Layout of clauses, which begins with management commitment, aligns with occupational safety and health management system standards e.g. ANSI Z10, OHSAS 18001, and VPP.

Risk concepts 

The concept of risk management for psychological health and safety hazards mostly aligns with ANSI/ASSE/ISO 31000 (Z690.2-2011) Risk Management - Principles and Guidelines. Vocabulary for “risk,” “risk analysis,” “risk assessment,” “risk criteria,” and “risk assessment” within the Canadian standard differ slightly but reach the same outcome from risk definitions found at ANSI/ASSE/ISO Guide 73 (Z690.1-2011). The standard’s Clause 4.3.4.1 that addresses the risk mitigation process follows the hierarchy of controls familiar to nearly all U.S. EHS pros.

Objectives

The standard supports regulations for Canadian employers. But the standard also supports global employer objectives such as ISO 26000:2010 Guidance on Social Responsibility. It requires organizations to “strive to eliminate psychosocial hazards in the workplace, which contribute or lead to stress and illness.” 

Annexes

The standard contains the following annexes:

A. Background and context

B. Resources for building a psychological health and safety framework

C. Sample implementation models

D. Implementation scenarios for small and large enterprises

E. Sample audit tool

F. Relevant legislation or regulations

G. Related standards and reference documents

At a minimum you should read annex A. Annex A provides evidence for the value of managing workplace psychological health and safety.

Annex B highlights key issues within a psychological health and safety management system, such as monitoring and measurement.

Here’s what annex C says about the model for building leadership commitment: “While the ideal is to have leadership commitment from both labour and management from the outset, it is not always possible or practical. This model is for those on the frontlines of management, human resources, unions, or health, safety, or wellness who want to begin a process to build leadership commitment. This could range from a small piloting approach for a team or department to a larger initiative that one is able to undertake. It begins with the development of programs or initiatives that can demonstrate the value of psychological health and safety approaches. It builds to some level of engagement of senior leadership and evolves over time to a more comprehensive approach. This approach is one where the positive support and effort of both labour and management is required for success.”

Annex D provides scenarios for small and large organizations on how to implement the standard. Here’s how the scenario for a small organization begins: “Joe owns a small independent mechanical garage. He has 10 employees and his wife contributes to the business administration. Recently, he has noticed that employee morale is low, the working environment negative, and there are high rates of absenteeism among his employees. Joe has decided that he needs to do something to improve the psychological working environment and he hopes to employ this Standard.”

According to the examples, in as little as seven steps, compliance with the standard may be achieved.

Annex E is a sample audit tool — a table with rows for each clause and columns for “yes,” “no,” “findings,” and in “comments.”  The audit tool initially may be used to conduct a gap analysis to determine how much an organization has to do to achieve full compliance with the standard.

Annexes F and G mostly relate to issues in Canada but with a little effort may be developed for any country.

Personal story

Early in my career I worked with Steve. Steve’s initial job was in fire safety, but he was promoted to a workers’ comp administrator position. Steve hated the workers’ comp job. One day Steve asked me if I could help him find another job. He was depressed. My last comment to Steve was, “hang in there and I will see what we can do tomorrow about helping you find a new job.”  Steve left my office, went home, parked his car in his garage with the engine running and sat there until his problems were solved. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning. He left a wife and two young daughters.

Put yourself in my shoes. Was there something I missed? 

Evidence shows us there are many people like Steve who don’t act logically. Some people end their life. Others take a life through workplace violence. Some abuse drugs. Other people miss work or don’t apply quality into the work that they do. Mental issues cause injury and illness rates to rise.

Solutions won’t come easily. But solutions won’t come at all if we don’t address reasonable actions such as consideration of Canada’s standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

DOWNLOAD: CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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