Planning, process review vital to workplace mental health program: experts

Planning and process review will be among the most important components of any organization’s push towards promoting a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, proponents of workplace mental health said.
At the Education Day event, hosted by the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), members of the technical committee that developed the new national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace gave attendees an overview of what the new standard entails and how to effectively implement it.

This voluntary standard, available at no cost to employers, has been designed to allow companies to take a baseline measurement and determine how they can fit their existing policies into the standard for achieving psychologically healthy and safe workplaces, according to Sari Sairanen, national health and safety director at Canadian Auto Workers’ union and a member of the standard development technical committee.

“Looking at your current workplace policies… How do they meet the standard? What changes do you need to make?” Sairanen said. “You don’t have to start from scratch, you can start building (the standard) into your own system.”

The intent of the standard from the beginning, she said, was to develop guidelines that will apply to all types of organizations — big or small — to encourage them to take up the cause of preventing psychological injury and promoting mental health.

It is a good idea to include all workplace stakeholders in the planning process as it increases the likelihood of success, she added.

“You have to have buy-in of all stakeholders,” Sairanen said. “You need to have participation in the planning, it’s not just something dictated to (employees).”

The planning process allows the organization to identify objectives and set targets for promoting psychological health and safety, she said, and as with any management system, program review and evaluation are important.

The standard prescribes guidelines for implementing measurement and review systems to ensure sustainability of the mental health program.

Sairanen said this step is essential for organizations to determine whether they’re meeting their program objectives and if further improvements or revisions are necessary.

The national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace was launched on Jan. 16. The standard is the result of collaboration among the Mental Health Commission of Canada, CSA Group and Quebec standards body Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec.

While the standard is intended to be voluntary, one legal expert believes current trends seem to point towards mandatory implementation in the future.

Shane Todd, an associate with the labour and employment law group at Toronto-based law firm Heenan Blaikie, told CSSE Toronto Education Day attendees the standard may see itself being adopted into legislation in the future, but it will likely take a long time before that happens.

Todd, however, said government enforcers may use the general duty clause under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to enforce the standard, but it is unlikely, particularly for jurisdictions that have workplace violence and harassment legislation.

The Toronto lawyer stressed even without specific legislation, organizations would benefit by complying with the new standard.

“There’s a growing patchwork of law to address psychological safety and it has created uncertainty for employers,” Todd said. “The standard can help employees address these complaints.” 

Attendees at the CSSE Toronto Education Day were also given a lesson on leadership by Mississauga, Ont. Mayor Hazel McCallion. With 35 years of continuous experience as mayor of the city, McCallion is one the country’s longest serving elected official.

“Every employee should be a leader, you can’t just have leaders at the top,” McCallion told attendees. Encourage people to be a leader by making them feel like they are an important part of the organization, she added.

Asked whether health and safety should become part of the education curriculum, the Mississauga mayor said, absolutely.

“Success of any program has got to start with the kids. You have to start with the schools,” she said.