Mental health at work: 10 best practices from early adopters of CSA Z1003

Jan 12, 2016

Mental healthIn any given week, 500,000 Canadians will not make it to work because of a mental health problem or illness. Forty-one companies across Canada are tackling this head on. To promote positive mental health among all employees, these companies are implementing CSA Z1003, Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. They're also sharing their experiences with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. "We all have a chance to learn from this," says Andrew Harkness, WSPS' strategy advisor, organizational health initiatives.

In 2014 the commission began monitoring the progress made by these 41 companies by embedding two researchers in each workplace. This three-year research project aims to identify promising practices, as well as challenges and barriers to implementation, and develop tools to help other workplaces adopt the standard.

"It’s a unique opportunity for everyone with an interest in creating safe, healthy and productive workplaces," says Harkness. "We're in the passenger seat, watching and learning as this goes forward."

Mental health problems and illnesses are considered the number one cause of disability in Canada, accounting for 30% of disability claims and 70% of disability claim costs. The commission estimates the economic cost at a staggering $20 billion annually.1

10 promising best practices

Interim results show these practices can potentially help all organizations implement the standard and create psychologically healthier and safer workplaces:

  1. Communicate to employees the organization's commitment to psychological health and safety and why it wants to implement the standard.
  2. Establish firm, unwavering and sustainable leadership commitment that can survive organizational changes.
  3. Tell employees how and why the organization is assessing psychosocial factors, and what it will do with the results.
  4. Establish clear practices for identifying and managing psychological hazards. Build on existing measures to prevent bullying and harassment.
  5. Identify specific psychological health and safety indicators. They can help to evaluate and plan a response to psychological health and safety issues.
  6. Partner with relevant stakeholders, such as disability insurance providers, employee assistance programs and workers compensation boards, on developing targeted indicators to assess psychological health and safety and strategies for addressing psychological safety together.
  7. Incorporate evidence from research and industry best practices into action planning.2
  8. Evaluate employee knowledge of psychological health and safety.
  9. Take psychological health and safety into account when preparing for organizational change.
  10. Build organizational capacity for evaluating psychological health and safety initiatives.

"What I find particularly encouraging," says Harkness, "is that few of the participating organizations were starting from scratch, even though they may not have realized it at the time. They were able to build on what was already in place, such as preventing workplace violence and harassment or promoting respect and civility. They will also be able to transfer new knowledge and skills to other initiatives."

"For the rest of us," continues Harkness, "these companies are adding to our resource base. The issue of mental health in the workplace continues to grow. It's an issue we will all need to pay attention to."

Attending to the mental health and wellbeing of employees can have a profound impact on absenteeism, turnover, presenteeism, benefits usage and disability, sustainability, and productivity. In addition to being sound business practice, it's an employer obligation. Under Section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have a duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. This means taking every practical effort to avoid reasonable, foreseeable injuries to the mental health of their employees.

How WSPS can help

  1. Learn how to create a mentally healthy workplace by
  1. Sign up for any of these training opportunities:
  • Mental Health First Aid (public or on site)
  • Mental Health in the Workplace: Working with the National Standard (public or on site)
  • e-courses on mental health awareness, communication strategies, signs, symptoms and solutions, and more
  1. Speak with a consultant on how WSPS can help you start implementing CSA Z1003, Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Contact WSPS Customer Care: 905-614-1400; customercare@wsps.ca.


1 Mental Health Commission of Canada. Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health in Canada. (2013).

2 Among available resources are Psychological Health & Safety - Employers' Action Guide, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, Assembling the Pieces - An implementation Guide to the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety, and the MHCC Workplace Mental Health website.