For the past few years, work-related mental stress has been the subject of increasing attention from the media, as well as from government, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders. For example:
- In 2010, the Bill 168 amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act formally recognized workplace harassment (together with workplace violence) as occupational health and safety issues;
- In 2013, the Canadian Standards Association (“CSA”) published a 75-page voluntary standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace; and
- Earlier this year, the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal issued a decision in which it ruled that long-established legislative and policy restrictions on allowing benefits for traumatic mental stress are unconstitutional.
The most recent development comes in the form of the October 7, 2014 release of the Ministry of Labour’s report (the “Report”) arising out of its Roundtable on Traumatic Mental Stress. In that regard, the Ministry’s website describes the mandate and process of the Roundtable as follows:
“The Roundtable on Traumatic Mental Stress was launched by the Ontario government in 2012 to help promote healthier, more productive workplaces. It brought together representatives from police, nursing, fire services, emergency medical services and transit services to discuss how to promote awareness and share best practices across sectors on work-related traumatic mental stress, which includes post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The Report’s stated purpose is not to be prescriptive but to “spark discussions and actions in the sectors and organizations that participated in the roundtable process, other sectors where traumatic mental stress incidences are likely to occur, as well as for consideration by government.”
Further to that, the Report distilled a list of fourteen (14) ideas “to stimulate further ideas, debate, and follow-up actions”, many of which reflect the themes of broadening education and awareness regarding work-related traumatic mental stress (“TMS”), eliminating the stigma that is often associated with TMS and other mental health conditions, and sharing resources across organizations and industry sectors.
That said, the recommendations that will likely be of most immediate note to many employers are those appearing under the heading “Guidelines and mandatory requirements”, and which include:
- “Consider minimum legislative requirements.
- Legislate accountability and requirements around supporting employees with TMS.
- Consider making it mandatory that employees need to be trained from “day one” on TMS.
- Revise Critical Injury definition in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in order to have critical injury defined by the event itself.
- [Ministry of Labour] and other system partners could create mental health and PTSD materials.”
Although the Report does not herald any imminent legislative amendments, it does put the employer community on notice that new compliance obligations related to TMS will likely be coming in the not-so-distant future. In that regard, possibilities suggested by the Report include:
- “[I]n some cases, legislative requirements around primary prevention (specifically around preventing traumatic incidents from occurring) might be needed.”
- “Make it mandatory for employers to provide critical incidence response and training, such as resiliency training, including psychological safety training.”
- “[T]he [CSA’s] voluntary National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace should be more than a guideline.”
- “Mandatory annual training to update key staff on return to work disability prevention principles, supports and recovery practices”.
Inasmuch as any of those proposals would impose significant new duties on employers, the next steps following from the Report should (and no doubt will) be carefully watched by Human Resources and Occupational Health & Safety professionals, who should very much have work-related mental stress on their collective radar as an emerging issue.
Indeed, the question is not whether employers’ obligations related to work-related mental stress will continue to develop, but rather how. . .and how soon.