Psychological safety 2014: County of Wellington

County of Wellington is the gold winner in the psychological safety category for the 2014 Canada's Safest Employers Awards

Through a range of programs and policies, the County of Wellington shows its employees that preserving their mental health is just as important as preventing slips and falls.

“We really do put all our health and safety policies into action. We do walk the talk,” says Andrea Lawson, human resources director at the municipal government in southwest Ontario.

The County of Wellington is the winner of the very first Canada’s Safest Employers Psychological Safety Award.


Michele Richardson, health and safety co-ordinator, says the county puts a great deal of effort into education and communication on the importance of psychological safety. From the time they’re hired, employees are trained in respectful workplace, verbal de-escalation and workplace violence policies.

Training, including online programs, continues on a regular basis. The county recently introduced a mental health tool kit, part of mandatory training for all staff.

While workers learn to report unhealthy psychological situations to their managers, managers are trained to investigate issues and, if required, take corrective action. At quarterly managers’ meetings, they often discuss a topic regarding psychological health and safety.

“We work hard to give them the skills they need to identify employees who may be struggling with mental health issues and the skills they need to initiate a conversation with them,” Richardson says.

Consistency of manager training is important, says Melanie Shaye, human resources supervisor. The county’s 800 employees work at 50 offices spread across 2,590 square kilometres.

“We have people working in very remote locations and in different businesses — solid waste, roads, libraries. But because managers have this training and can deliver it to rural as well as urban staff all employees get the same message,” she says.

Workers can go to Richardson for support, who is an occupational health nurse, or they can also consult trained mental health first-aiders who work on site.

Absenteeism reports, worker complaints, results of exit interviews and employee and family assistance program (EFAP) quarterly reports are used to set objectives when the health and safety team develops its psychological health and safety management system, Richardson says. It also promotes prevention in areas with high EFAP usage.

The County of Wellington council, senior staff and chief administrative officer, Scott Wilson, are extremely supportive of a psychologically healthy workplace, which is a central reason for the county’s success, Lawson says.

“They support all facets of our health and safety policies. We’re very fortunate,” she says. “It’s apparent when people come into the County of Wellington that that’s how we operate here.”