A new voluntary national standard provides workplaces with the tools needed to continuously and measurably improve workers' psychological health and safety. "This new standard, the world's first, will help workplaces prevent mental harm by enabling them to identify and address root causes," says Andrew Harkness, a healthy workplace specialist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS). "It's a strategic approach, with all the long-term benefits that come with strategic planning."
The standard defines a psychologically healthy and safe workplace as one that "actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health including in negligent, reckless or intentional ways and promotes workers' psychological well-being." To achieve this, the standard - CSA Z1003/BNQ 9700-803 Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace - presents a continuous improvement framework that includes:
identifying and eliminating hazards that pose a risk of psychological harm
assessing and controlling risks associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (e.g., stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands)
implementing structures and practices that support and promote psychological health and safety
fostering a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace
To encourage workplaces to adopt the standard, it will be available free of charge for five years. "The fact that the standard is available for free," says Harkness, "indicates just how seriously the issue of psychological health and safety in the workplace is being taken by standards bodies, government agencies, industry and labour." In addition to his work at WSPS, Harkness is a member of the volunteer technical committee that created the standard.
Mental health problems and illnesses are Canada's leading cause of short‐ and long‐term disability, typically accounting for 30% of short- and long-term disability claims. They are also rated one of the top three drivers of these claims by more than 80% of Canadian employers. Mental health problems and illnesses also account for $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism.1
"The more we understand about mental health," says Harkness, "the more we realize that psychologically unhealthy and unsafe workplaces can have debilitating effects on employees, workplace culture, and workplace productivity. It's no longer just a human resources issue. It's about preventing mental injuries."
The standard was championed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and developed by a multi-stakeholder technical committee under the auspices of the CSA Group (CSA) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ). Numerous organizations across Canada reviewed the draft standard during the public consultation period. Comments received were taken into account when developing the standard.
Although BSI, a U.K.-based standards company, published a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) on managing psychosocial risks in the workplace in February 2011, Elizabeth Rankin, project manager of CSA’s Occupational Health & Safety Group, notes that Canada is the first country to develop a standard for mental health in the workplace.2 "Canada is leading the way on a health and safety issue that will only grow in urgency," says Rankin.
Putting the standard in place
To help workplaces adopt the standard, the technical committee structured and wrote it in a format and language that companies will be familiar with. It aligns with such standards as ISO 14000, OHSAS 18000, ISO 9000, CSA Z1000 and Z1002 series, and BNQ's Healthy Enterprise Standard. And because it applies a managed systems approach - plan, do, check, act - it can be integrated into existing workplace systems in manageable steps.
To help workplaces apply the standard, it contains these additional resources:
implementation scenarios for small and large businesses
sample implementation models
sample audit tool
a discussion of relevant legislation or regulation (as of September 2011)
related standards and reference documents
"From a process perspective," says Harkness, "the standard offers a framework for rethinking and improving on how work is being done now. Take shiftwork as an example. It's a fact of life for many workplaces, but if it's managed poorly, workplaces end up compromising both organizational and employee health and well-being. The standard can help workplaces sustain the production value of shiftwork and protect workers' physical and psychological health and safety at the same time."
How workplaces will benefit
For employees, benefits include protection from psychological harm and promotion of psychological wellbeing, creating an environment in which workers can focus on achieving their full potential.
For employers, says Harkness, benefits include a stronger competitive advantage and greater organizational effectiveness resulting from
less absenteeism and lower short‐ and long‐term disability costs
reduced turnover and enhanced recruitment
higher levels of employee engagement, creativity and innovation
lower rates of error and physical injuries
"Another advantage gaining increasing attention," says Harkness, "is a reduced risk of legal issues related to psychological harm to employees." In a 2010 report commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada entitled Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm, author Martin Shain advised of an emerging legal duty for employers to provide and maintain a psychologically safe workplace. This report provided further impetus for a national standard.
Development of the standard was funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and Bell Canada. "Their investment signifies an increasing awareness and support for making positive changes in the mental health of Canadian workers," says CSA's Elizabeth Rankin.
Noting the presence of Bell Canada among the standard's funders, Rankin observes that "employers in particular do not generally provide funding for OH&S standards. Bell's investment tells us that Bell, as an employer, realizes the importance of employees. Not only their own employees, but those of other organizations as well. Bell is becoming a corporate leader in this area." (For more on Bell's commitment to mental health, watch for "Bell's Fight Against the Stigma of Mental Illness" in the November issue of WSPS's HSO Network Magazine.)
To download a complimentary copy of CSA Z1003/BNQ 9700-803, go to any of these organizations’ websites: The Mental Health Commission of Canada, CSA and BNQ.
How WSPS can help
WSPS consultants understand the relationship between workplace culture and productivity, and can help workplaces
understand the standard
implement it, including conducting needs assessments
develop a comprehensive healthy workplace strategy
To learn more about the healthy workplace concept, check out Health & Safety Ontario and WSPS resources.