Workers with mental health challenges represent the fastest growing number of disability claims in the country. Mental health challenges are also the leading cause of both shortterm and long-term disabilities in Canada. The economic effects of mental health challenges are estimated at $51 billion per year, of which nearly $20 billion is attributable to workplace losses.
Recently, the CSA Group (CSA), the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) worked collaboratively to release a national standard to improve the psychological health and safety of Canadian workers. The standard titled the CAN/CSAZ1003- 13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 is built on existing occupational health and safety guidelines, management systems and risk assessments.
Although compliance is currently voluntary, there is speculation in the occupational health and safety community that this standard could be incorporated by reference into relevant statutes, and emerge as a legal duty under occupational health and safety legislation. This speculation is based on the assumption that many aspects of psychological health and safety are within the control, responsibility, or influence of the workplace, the employer, the supervisor, and more generally, its workforce.
The standard addresses the prevention of harm (the psychological safety of employees), the promotion of health (maintaining and promoting psychological health), and the resolution of incidents or concerns. For workers, addressing these areas can heighten engagement, enhance productivity and improve creativity and innovation. For employers and supervisors, the corresponding effect is better recruitment and retention of talented workers, and a reduction of several key workplace issues including the risk of conflict, grievances, injury rates and morale problems.
Section 1.1 of the standard provides a list of requirements for a documented and systematic approach to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace:
- Identification and elimination of hazards in the workplace that pose a risk of psychological harm to a worker;
- Assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (example, stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands);
- Implementation of structures and practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace; and
- Development of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace.
While compliance with the standard is voluntary, and accordingly, does not have the force of law, employers have a legal duty to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers. The OHS specialists at Gowlings recommend that employers, supervisors, and occupational health and safety professionals be knowledgeable of the standard’s strategic pillars: namely the proposed prevention of harm, the promotion of health, and the implementation recommendations, thus encouraging resolution of incidents and concerns.