Businesses rarely benefit from taking a “whack-a-mole” approach to managing workplace mental health and addictions. Don’t just react to individual issues as they arise. Instead, develop a workplace strategy to integrate into your existing comprehensive occupational health and safety program.

Tools such as the Canadian Standards Association’s Z1003 Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace standard or the ISO 45003 Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risks can help you to craft a strategy that suits your business’s needs. Workplaces need to use a mix of approaches in order to reach employees, regardless of their experience or “readiness” to participate in improving workplace health, safety, and well-being.

 

Building Your Workplace PH&S Strategy

Psychological hazards are elements of the work environment, management practices, or organizational practices that pose a risk to an employee's mental health and well-being. Common psychological hazards include exposure to harassment, violence, or traumatic events. Long-term exposure to less severe psychological hazards, such as increasing job demands or role ambiguity, can also affect mental health.

Developing a plan to tackle a complex issue such as psychological health, safety, and well-being is, well… complex! But don’t let that scare you off. Taking even small steps toward improvement benefits both workers and the workplace—and can lead to greater changes over time. Below, you will find some basic information to consider when building or refining your program.

Key steps, as outlined by the Canadian Standards Association

Step 1: Lead Phase

Commitment, leadership, and effective participation are crucial to the success of any psychological health and safety management system (PHSMS). Commitment to the system and its goals should be communicated by the most senior levels of the organization. Management must then ensure that the responsibilities and authorities related to the PHSMS are defined and disseminated throughout the organization, using an internal responsibility system (IRS).

While supporting and protecting workplace psychological health and safety contributes to organizational and employee success, historically, it has not always been easy to get buy-in from decision makers. Here are some ways to help convince senior leadership to say “yes” to psychological health and safety, not as a separate program but as part of the organizational strategies, goals, policies and processes they already value.

 

Step 2: Plan Phase

The main objective of a comprehensive occupational health and safety program is to prevent work-related mental health injuries and illnesses, as well as the financial costs and other losses they cause. A planned PHSMS—integrated with your existing occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS), such as COR™—is key to understanding where your organization stands and where it should be when it comes to psychological health and safety. Using your management system, you’ll be able to set goals, establish priorities for action, assign responsibilities, and decide how performance will be measured.

Implementing the CSA’s entire National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is an ideal approach to addressing psychological health and safety in your workplace, but there are other options available. Even with limited resources and budget, it is possible to begin making improvements.

Where do we start with psychological health and safety?

You may want to consider these simple suggestions to help you avoid some of the challenges associated with managing significant changes. Begin by getting buy-in and commitment from all workplace stakeholders through thoughtful preparation, assessment, and a plan for acting on the results.

Additionally, these tools can help you assess the current needs of your organization:

After assessing workplace needs, it’s time to plan your actions—the programs and processes you’ll put in place to improve psychological health and safety. This planning process should also include settling on an evaluation strategy. By determining a way to consistently measure performance, you will be able to reliably gauge the success of your actions—and then figure out how to make them better.

You can also get more information on implementing the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace with the free resources found in the employer resource section.

 

Step 3: Do Phase

This step involves applying your understanding of the workplace psychosocial hazards that employees face, and taking action to address them. The main elements of the Do phase are:

  • 1. Determining which controls and measures will be most effective in reducing exposures to the identified hazards
  • 2. Developing those controls and measures
  • 3. Implementing them.

This is where you actually take action to address mental health hazards by developing and applying controls, such as implementing and enforcing specific policies or offering training programs. There are several resources to help you carry out successful psychological health and safety initiatives in your workplace found in the employer toolkit resources.

 

Step 4: Check Phase

At the planning stage, you decided how to measure the success of your actions. During the check phase, those measurements are used to evaluate if the programs, processes, and practices that were put in place are achieving their intended outcomes. By analyzing relevant information, you should see whether your controls are successfully reducing workplace mental health risks.

Some evaluation questions to consider are, “How do we know whether these actions achieved their intended outcomes?” and “How do we know whether our investment in time, effort and money was worthwhile?”

Effective evaluation is:

  • Practical: clearly relevant to your intended outcomes, straightforward, measurable, easy to implement, and cost-effective
  • Flexible: adaptable to your workplace and its available resources
  • Continuous: uses an ongoing quality improvement approach where employee feedback is provided over time and used to modify/improve intervention(s)

The CSA's National Standard recommends scheduling a management review of your entire psychological health and safety management system at least once every two years.

 

Step 5: Act Phase

Based on your findings in the check phase, you now need to look for ways to adjust processes to improve performance and tackle emerging psychological health and safety issues. Acting is about finding ways to continuously improve.

After assessment, you may find you need to work to improve various processes and programs. Here is a list of evidence-based actions you may consider adopting. Though not all suggestions will be appropriate for your specific workplace, they may spark valuable discussion. Don’t be afraid to get creative to find solutions that are tailored to meet your organization’s needs.

To learn more about the tools and resources available to support you from IHSA and our external system partners, check out our employer resources.

 

Building a Caring Workplace Culture

This is about building an environment where your workers feel appreciated and valued-and where they value each other. Employees who feel they are positively contributing to organizational goals tend to work harder to succeed at their individual roles, which in turn helps the business succeed. Companies with a healthy culture also see less turnover and lower levels of absenteeism, which directly impact the bottom line.

A caring workplace is one where each worker feels valued—not only for their skills and performance, but as a whole person, whose personal needs may sometimes need to be addressed by the workplace. It’s also a workplace where employees value each other. Workers who feel they are positively contributing to organizational goals tend to work harder to succeed at their individual roles, which in turn helps the business succeed. Companies with a healthy culture also see less turnover and lower levels of absenteeism, both of which positively affect the bottom line.

Among a variety of options, an organization may choose to meet its workers’ mental health needs by offering:

  • Workload accommodations for those who may be struggling
  • Leaves of absence to aid recovery from illness or injury
  • Schedule flexibility to improve work-life balance
  • Words of support from supervisors.

On the other hand, building a caring workplace culture is also about not allowing conduct that will erode psychological safety, such as violence, harassment, bullying, and other offensive behaviours. Workplaces must look to what they can control and influence to support a caring culture and eliminate unacceptable behaviours. To help develop a psychologically safe organizational culture:

  • Assess your future goals, as well as your current state
  • Review current efforts to support employee success and well-being in your workplace

For unionized workplaces, psychological health and safety can also be improved through cooperation between management and the union. Ideally, this cooperation should occur when you develop your psychological health and safety management system. It should also be ongoing. For example, when union representatives are consulted regarding workplace measures such as return-to-work plans, accommodations, and conflict resolution processes, they can provide additional support to workers and ensure that proposed solutions are appropriate and sustainable.

 
Creating a caring workplace culture
 

Employee mental health and addiction supports

Employee and Family Assistance Programs

Community-based resources

Accommodation/return-to-work

  • Strategies for frontline supervisors and managers to better respond to employees returning to work or requiring accommodation, especially when mental health is a factor. (WSMH)
 

Employee Wellbeing

Fatigue management

Chronic Mental Stress and Resilience

Self-checks

  • Effective assessments help organizations identify strengths and areas for improvement. Each of these assessments are evidence-based and free to use. (WSMH)

Work-life balance tips

Mental health apps

Mental Health Awareness weekly emails

Emotional intelligence for employees

Resilience

 

Special Areas of Concern

The trades have unique concerns related to mental health and overall well-being. Each day, employers and workers alike must manage issues including bullying and harassment, opioid use, and broader fit-for-duty concerns such as impairment due to fatigue, substance misuse, and more.

Learn more about some of these special areas of concern below, and access resources with practical steps you can take today to address the issues.

 
Need a quick win?

Start the conversation by delivering one or more of these IHSA safety talks:

 
Stigma

Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and prejudices about a person or group of people. It is often based on myths and outdated social norms. It can lead to discrimination—the unjust treatment of a stigmatized person of group.

Experiencing stigma and/or discrimination can lead to mental health or substance-use problems (or make existing issues worse). In particular, the stigmatization of mental illness can make people suffering from it feel ashamed, distressed, and hopeless. They may be reluctant to seek or receive help, and may feel like they are to blame for their illness.

Here are some resources to help you challenge stigma in the workplace:

For more information on tackling stigma in the workplace, check out our employer resources.

 
Suicide Response

About 4,000 Canadians die by suicide every year. Construction workers in particular are at greater risk of suicide: the suicide rate in construction is four times the North American average. A number of factors contribute to this heightened risk, including injuries and illnesses that lead to chronic pain, exposure to traumatic events at work, and a culture that, historically, has discouraged discussing and seeking help for mental health concerns. Until cultural change takes place, it is critical to learn the signs of declining mental health and suicide risk, and learn how to support someone who may be struggling with their mental health.

Learn more about the signs of declining mental health and how best to respond by exploring the employer resources, and consider delivering the IHSA safety talk, declining mental health and suicide risk.

 
Impairment response and fit-for-duty concerns

While we typically think of impairment in terms of addiction or dependence on alcohol or drugs, it can also have a number of other causes, from mental or physical exhaustion to stress outside of the workplace. Even exposure to extreme heat or cold can diminish worker’s ability to perform their duties safely.

Impairment on a jobsite, in a truck yard, or on the road poses a serious risk not only to the impaired worker, but also their colleagues and potentially the public at large. It’s vitally important that your business have a clear policy outlining—among other things—your definition of impairment, mechanisms for reporting, processes for getting help, and disciplinary actions.

It’s also important that you and your supervisors are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of impairment—and that you learn how to respond in a way that protects the health and safety of the workplace, while still respecting of the psychological health of the worker. Impairment and addictions response for leaders is an easy-to-follow resource with tips to help you develop a policy about workplace impairment, plus information on recognizing and responding to impaired workers. You may also wish to deliver an IHSA safety talk on impairment at the workplace.

 
Violence and Harassment Prevention

Much has been done to address violence, harassment, bullying, and discrimination in Ontario workplaces. However, challenges remain for many organizations and workers in the trades. IHSA is committed to increasing its response to support workplaces when it comes to these issues. The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) Prevention Works strategy also highlights workplace violence and harassment as an important area of focus.

IHSA’s Workplace Violence and Harassment toolkit offers a number of resources to help you develop policies and programs to prevent and manage violence and harassment.

 
Opioids in the Trades

Opioid overdoses and deaths are a public health crisis affecting many working Canadians. Workers in construction are particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction and the harms it can cause. IHSA has a created a free Call to Action webinar, Opioid Crisis in the Trades: Moving Beyond Awareness to a Plan of Action, to help get your organization thinking about ways to strategically address opioid misuse trades. We also offer a safety talk on opioids in the trades to help supervisors start the conversation about opioid use with workers, by explaining the risks and identifying controls.

We also encourage you to check out the 19 Key Objectives for Employers in our Workplace Opioid Response Toolkit, and find great resources to support your efforts in managing this important workplace issue.

 
Guidance Documents
 
Audit and Assessment tools
 
Actions for Improvement to consider