JHSCs: an untapped mental health resource

Feb 19, 2019

JHSCsPressure has been building on workplaces to provide physically as well as psychologically healthy and safe workplaces,” says WSPS Consultant Krista Schmid. “Many employers are talking about it and wondering what to do.

Among the solutions: tapping into the in-house expertise of your own joint health and safety committee (JHSC). “They’re ideally positioned to act as champions of mental health,” says Krista. They can help the employer reduce stigma and pinpoint psychological hazards in the workplace.

Interest in this area is growing rapidly, and in some proactive workplaces JHSCs are already incorporating mental health into their workplace duties. WSPS is highlighting some of these companies in a new training course that educates JHSCs and provides useful tools for preventing harm to mental health. Dr. Martin Shain, Canada’s leading expert on workplace mental health,[1] was instrumental in the development of WSPS’ new course.

Workplace pressure points

Factors compelling employers to address mental health include:

  • rising disability costs - mental health problems are a leading cause of short‐and long‐term disability in Canada
  • new laws on workplace violence and harassment
  • a broadening definition of “health” to include mental health
  • growing awareness of mental health issues in the workplace
  • greater legal recognition of the employer’s duty to prevent psychological harm to workers

The JHSC's role

Reducing mental health harm involves “looking at how workplace factors such as culture, organization of work, and workplace relationships and interactions are impacting workers’ mental health,” explains Krista.

JHSCs are well suited to root out workplace factors.[2] For instance, JHSCs:

  • conduct workplaces inspections, participate in investigations, and make recommendations to management about safety issues. “They can integrate workplace mental health into these tasks," says Krista. “It would require putting on a different lens, but it makes sense for them to keep their eyes and ears open to ensure the workplace is safe in all respects.”
  • are trusted by employees. Workers may feel more comfortable talking to a JHSC member about a problem, such as “I’m really feeling stressed,” “My supervisor is always picking on me,” or “I’m frustrated that I have no role in the decisions that are made.”
  • are able to regularly survey workers about company culture and health and safety related beliefs with simple yes or no questions, such as, “I think I could report instances of dishonest and unethical practices without fear of reprisal,” or “Safety rules are carefully observed even if it means work is slowed down.”
  • can help identify the mental health impacts of safety-related issues. For instance, “Is the worker with the MSD injury able to do his job without feeling frustrated or stressed?”

How WSPS can help

The following resources could help your JHSC members reduce psychological harm in the workplace by becoming mental health ambassadors or champions:

  1. WSPS’ new training course, Workplace Mental Health: What Health and Safety Committees Should Know
  2. Sessions and exhibits on mental health at Partners in Prevention 2019 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, including a Mental Health in the Workplace Forum, May 1
  3. WSPS workplace mental health consultants, who can work with you and your JHSC to identify and implement effective ways to improve the work environment and encourage a supportive workplace mental health framework

1 Dr. Shain discusses the emerging legal duty on employers in his report Weathering the Perfect Legal Storm. This report gave rise to the CSA standard, Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace - Prevention, Promotion, and Guidance to Staged Implementation (CSA-Z1003-13), which provides employers with a framework for assessing and addressing psychological health and safety in their workplace.

2 Find out more about the 13 psychosocial factors that can cause psychological health problems at Guarding Minds at Work.