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For those of us who spend a great many of our waking hours at work, the quality of our workplace environment and the relationships we have there can impact our health and well-being. A healthy workplace supports both the physical and psychological well-being of its workers and creates a culture of trust and support in which we can openly share and discuss our mental health issues with our manager.
Traditionally, occupational health and safety focused mainly on the physical safety of employees. We controlled noise hazards by enclosing loud equipment and protected workers from cuts and entanglement by installing safe guards on machines. We rolled out WHMIS training and made sure that hazardous products were properly labeled. But we didn’t talk about how poor workload management was impacting a worker’s mental health. We didn’t address the lack of respect that was shown to coworkers at team meetings. We didn’t assess the workplace for hazards that could cause negative responses to stress. Recently, there has been a shift with more and more workplaces putting mental health on the agenda and recognizing the hazards that can cause psychological harm.
Coming to terms
“Psychologically healthy” workplaces and “mentally healthy” workplaces both describe the same high-functioning, respectful and productive environment. The term “psychologically healthy workplace” is often used when talking about preventing psychological injuries such as stress-related emotional conditions resulting from real or perceived threats or injuries. By addressing the whole organization for the 13 recognized psychological workplace factors, all workers benefit, regardless of where they fall on the mental health spectrum. The term “mentally healthy workplace” is often used within the context of mental health promotions and is viewed as a strategy used to reduce risk factors for developing mental illness. This can be in the form of personal health resources, materials and information to help an individual with their resiliency, coping and growth and development.
These 13 recognized psychological workplace factors*, such as clear roles and expectations, workload management, engagement, civility and respect, can affect employees’ mental and physical health. When employees have a negative exposure to these factors, there is potential for the development of stress, demoralization, depressed mood, anxiety and/or burnout.
Organizational mental health
There is no one "right way" to create a mentally healthy workplace because every workplace is different - from the people doing the work, to the work that needs to be done, to the leaders running the organization, the size of the organization, the external environment that influences the community, and the external resources from which the company draws. All of these factors play a role in affecting how you address mental health. However, regardless of these variables, the 13 psychological hazards can be addressed and research has shown that they can have a positive impact on your workplace.
Including mental health in your business model is important for creating a healthy workplace. Poor mental health not only hurts the individual, it also reduces corporate profits. It's important that all levels of the workplace - including the Board of Directors, management, finance, and human resources departments - get involved to incorporate mental health at your workplace. It’s also necessary to engage your health and safety committee and workers – everyone has a shared responsibility for health and safety, including mental health.
There is also a legislative requirement for employers to protect the mental and physical health of their employees. Many provincial occupational health and safety acts have been expanded to include harm to psychological well-being in the definition of harassment.
Making mental health easy to share
Promoting a caring culture that balances work, life, safety, health and well-being brings many benefits, including a more enjoyable work environment, increased productivity, and happier workers who feel encouraged, supported and rewarded for their efforts. A psychologically safe and healthy workplace promotes workers' mental well-being and does not harm employee mental health through negligent, reckless or intentional ways. It’s an environment where people feel safe to share how they are feeling and their experiences without fear of judgement or being marginalized.
A supportive work environment can be a place of healing and promotes well-being and respect. Research and practical application tells us that an employee suffering from stress, whether it is caused by work or life issues, needs to be acknowledged and accommodated the same way as the worker who has strained their back lifting while at work, or injured themselves after exposure to a physical, chemical or biological hazard. When there is a trusting dynamic and partnership between employer and employee and an equitable treatment of employees with mental or physical injury or illness, employers create an environment where people feel safe to talk about mental health without judgement and in confidence.
An organization’s commitment to this culture needs to start with its leadership. In their day-to-day management, employers can encourage respectful and non-derogatory behaviours, active employee participation and decision making, and work-life balance. They can clearly define employees' duties and responsibilities and manage workloads.
Employee trust is built by respecting privacy and collecting only the information necessary to develop an appropriate accommodation. Clearly post and communicate your accommodation policy and procedures for keeping information confidential and safe. Managers need to respond to employee requests in a timely manner and move forward in good faith on requests for accommodation, even when waiting for supporting documentation. Engage with the worker, and experts if needed, to explore all reasonable solutions. Managers always have an obligation to prevent a worker with a health issue from harassment in the workplace. By working collaboratively, a culture of caring is created, trust is fostered and a dynamic work environment is established in which individuals can grow and thrive.
*Thirteen psychosocial risk (PSR) factors have been identified by researchers at Simon Fraser University "based on extensive research and review of empirical data from national and international best practices. The factors were also determined based on existing and emerging Canadian case law and legislation."
These 13 factors are discussed in detail on the Guarding Minds at Work website. Guarding Minds at Work is a free, evidence-based strategy that helps employers protect and promote psychological safety and health in their workplace.
Tips & Tools
Each year thousands of Canadians get injured on the job in accidents resulting from poor workplace housekeeping. Housekeeping is more than cleanliness. It requires a program that ensures work areas remain neat and orderly, correcting slip and trip hazards, and removing waste or scrap materials such as paper, cardboard, debris and other fire hazards from work areas. It requires attention to important details such as the layout of the whole workplace, aisle marking, the adequacy of storage facilities, and maintenance. When a workplace doesn’t establish and implement a housekeeping program, hazardous conditions can result. These situations expose workers to real danger and increase the likelihood of an accident.
A good housekeeping program
A good housekeeping program plans for the proper storage and manages efficient movement of materials from point of entry to exit. It includes a material flow plan to reduce unnecessary handling, also reducing risk of injury. The plan should ensure that work areas are not used as storage areas and workers access tools and materials as needed and return them after use. Part of the plan could include investing in extra bins, shelving or more frequent disposal.
Consequences of poor housekeeping include:
Tips for planning a good housekeeping program
Involve workers and safety committee members to understand the flow of work. Usually workers have great suggestions for workplace improvements. Implementing housekeeping policies can offset the cost of replacing lost or damaged tools and equipment, and labour costs of inefficiency from repeated handling of the same material and more effective use of the workers' time. By considering things such as the building footprint, the plant layout and the movement of materials within the workplace developing work procedures will be easier. Having standardized policies and procedures that everyone understands and follows creates a safer workplace.
Worker training is an essential part of any good housekeeping program. Workers need to know how to work safely with the tools, equipment and products they use. They also need to know how to protect other workers by following procedures and reporting any unsafe conditions.
An effective housekeeping program is ongoing. Cleaning and organization needs to be done regularly, not just at the end of the shift. Integrating housekeeping into jobs can help ensure this happens. When done effectively, housekeeping is an integral part of every task, performed by each employee, and not a hit-and-miss cleanup done occasionally. Periodic "panic" or pre-inspection clean-ups are costly and ineffective in reducing accidents. A good housekeeping program identifies and assigns responsibilities in the safe work procedures for clean up during the shift, day-to-day cleanup, waste disposal, the removal of unused materials and inspection to ensure cleanup is complete.
Other key aspects to ensuring any housekeeping program is effective are supervision and inspection. This allows for any deficiencies in the program to be identified proactively so that changes can be made before an incident occurs. These documents on workplace inspection checklists provide a general guide and examples of checklists for inspecting offices and manufacturing facilities.
Out-of-the-way places such as shelves, basements, sheds, and boiler rooms that might otherwise be overlooked should be included. The orderly arrangement of operations, tools, equipment and supplies is an important part of a good housekeeping program.
Workplace housekeeping is a shared responsibility. Everyone in the workplace can play a part to keep each other safe.
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the new episode A Mentally Healthy Workplace and an encore presentation of Just a Bump or a Ganglion Cyst?
Feature Podcast: A Mentally Healthy Workplace
Creating a mentally healthy workplace can have positive impacts across an organization. Emma Nicolson, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist at CCOHS, explains what mental health in the workplace looks like, and what organizations can do to build a culture that is mentally healthy.
The podcast runs 11:16 minutes.
Encore Podcast: Just a Bump or a Ganglion Cyst?
You may find out that the unsightly bump on your hand or wrist causing you pain or discomfort is a "ganglion cyst”, and it may be caused by the type of work you do. This podcast from CCOHS talks more about ganglions, what causes them, and how you may prevent them.
The podcast runs 2:44 minutes.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Mental health is a key component of a healthy workplace. And as part of healthy workplace, employers are required to protect their employees and address all workplace hazards, including psychosocial hazards. Many organizations, including the federal government, are committed to implementing the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace as part of their health and safety programs. To help organizations advance from awareness to action, CCOHS is conducting a practical one-day workshop, “Creating Your Healthy Workplace”.
The workshop is intended to equip leaders and champions of mental health with the framework, tools and resources they need to develop and implement a comprehensive healthy workplace program that addresses mental health.
Promoting a workplace culture that balances work, life, safety, health and wellness brings many rewards, including a more enjoyable and productive work environment, and happier, healthier employees who feel encouraged, supported and rewarded for their efforts.
January 31, 2017 from 9 am to 4 pm
Centre for Health and Safety Innovation, 5110 Creekbank Road in Mississauga, Ontario
$325 per person; materials, refreshments and lunch included
Register online. Space is limited.
International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day – February 28, 2017
CCOHS has new resources and free content you can use to help improve your repetitive strain injury (RSI) education and show your support of RSI Awareness Day. Promote important prevention messages with the new poster, the latest infographic, as well as several other resources and social media postcards.
Also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), repetitive strain injuries are an umbrella term used to describe a family of painful disorders affecting tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in the neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands. MSDs are the most frequent type of lost-time injury and the single largest source of lost-time costs in Canada.
Because RSIs develop slowly, workers should be educated to understand what causes these injuries, and how to recognize the early signs and symptoms. Hazards are best eliminated at the source, and with MSDs, the prime source of hazard is the repetitiveness of work. Prevention must aim at eliminating the repetitiveness of the work by proper job design, and where this is not possible, preventive strategies such as good workplace layout, tool and equipment design, and proper work practices should be considered. It is important to recognize these disorders early because medical treatments become less effective the longer these injuries go on.
In order to be truly effective, workers, their representatives, and management must be involved in preventive and control measures, to improve workplace health and safety.
Mark your calendars, raise awareness, and prevent the pain.
Visit the RSI Awareness Day page: http://ccohs.ca/events/rsi
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2021, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety