Safety First and Last: Treat employee mental health the same way you would treat physical safety

Body includes mind
Jeff Thorne
September 12, 2018
By Jeff Thorne
We have all had bad days. You know, those days where work has piled up, deadlines are upon you, co-workers are complaining about everything without offering a solution, your supervisor or manager expects the world and the walls seem to be closing in around you and your performance is starting to slide.
Employers need to look at mental health and its psychological components through the same lens as the physical environment.

There are thirteen psychosocial risk factors that have been outlined in detail in the Canadian Standards Association standard “Z1003-13 – Psychological Safety in the Workplace.”
  1. Psychological support – Employees need to feel supported psychologically by co-workers, supervisors and managers. Failure to have support can lead to absenteeism, turnover and poor work and safety performance.
  2. Organizational culture – Workplaces that exhibit trust, honesty and fairness focusing on a healthy culture assist in enhancing employee well-being. A poor culture can undermine the effectiveness of the most well-intentioned programs.
  3. Clear leadership and expectations – When there is effective leadership and support employees have direction and purpose and know how they contribute to the organization.
  4. Civility and respect – A civil and respectful workplace where workplace parties are considerate of one another leads to fairness, positive attitudes and improved morale. A workplace lacking this leads to conflict, unacceptable behaviours and dissent.
  5. Psychological competencies – A good job fit must incorporate the physical and psychological demands of the job. When the job fit is poor, it can lead to job-related stress, energy depletion and poor productivity.
  6. Growth and development – Employee encouragement, support and development of technical, interpersonal and emotional skills helps build confidence and enhances employee wellbeing. Employees that do not feel challenged can grow bored in their role and their performance will suffer.
  7. Recognition and Reward – Employees receiving recognition for a job well done have more energy and commitment to achieving personal and organizational goals. Lack of recognition can lead to poor confidence and lack of trust.
  8. Involvement and influence – Employees that have input become more engaged and take more pride in their work. Employees that don’t feel like they have a voice in their workplace feel alienated and this can lead to increased turnover.
  9. Workload management – This is typically the biggest workplace stressor. Lack of the time and resources to complete a task leads to psychological risk. Increased demands without opportunities for control result in fatigue, stress and strain.
  10. Engagement – Employees that are physically and emotionally engaged feel more connected to their work and are motivated to perform well. Negative engagement leads to turnover, poor morale and has a negative economic impact.
  11. Balance – Achieving a work-life balance provides greater flexibility allowing employees to minimize work-life conflict. When this can’t be achieved, stress can accumulate. This imbalance can lead to anger, fatigue and mental withdrawal.
  12. Psychological protection – Employees that feel psychologically safe are actively engaged in their role and feel protected. When they do not feel psychologically protected they are demoralized and disengaged and may perceive the workplace as unpredictable.
  13. Protection of physical safety – Employees that feel physically safe through hazard identification, risk mitigation and training will feel confident, secure and engaged. Workers that don’t perceive their work environment as being physically safe will feel less secure and less engaged.

Mental health and wellness has become one of the most globally discussed topics in health and safety in recent years and employers need to be diligent and focused on this topic.  


Jeff Thorne is manager of training at Occupational Safety Group.

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