Over the past 100 years, a focus has been put on preventing physical accidents at work. As we move forward to 2015, we need to make sure these prevention efforts include psychological safety.
In 1917 the Industrial Accident Prevention Association was created, led by the Canadian Manufacturers Association. Leading up to the creation of the Workmen’s Compensation Board (today the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) and the safety associations there were several strikes over working conditions in Canadian factories as well as mining and railroading. There have been many milestones in the history of injury prevention and compensation in Canada with the Fordist model giving way to a more collaborative way of working.
In 1972 Saskatchewan passed the first Occupational Health and Safety Act in Canada and a new era — considered the first of its kind in North America — began. With the passing of the Saskatchewan act, the three rights we know of today where created — the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse unsafe work — which has formed the basis of modern health and safety relationships, programs and legislation. Until then, there had been a hodgepodge patchwork of conflicting and competing statutes and regulations and workers had little to no rights.
It was in 1980 that the British Columbia act imbedded joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) stating “….the committees “shall assist in creating a safe place of work, shall recommend actions which will improve the effectiveness of the industrial health and safety program, and shall promote compliance with these regulations.”
In the 1970s we began to look at the physical health of workplaces and its workers. It was the work of a national tri-partite team that worked diligently from the mid 1970s to the 1989 to develop the Workplace Hazardous Information System (WHIMIS). And yet another a new era began. The WHIMIS model was emulated by other countries and served as the basis for other development in occupational health, such as the specialty of occupational medicine and occupational health nursing. In 1978, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) was born.
All this took place within the shifting societal values and post Second World War economic activity. The changing values and laws provided a need for greater professionalization, education, credibility and development for the health, safety and environment practitioner as well as for industry due diligence. During this period, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) was beginning and in 1976 the Association of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (now the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals) began the development of the CRSP designation. CSSE now offers the Certified Health and Safety Consultant (CHSC) designation. Many post-secondary schools across Canada offer certificate and diploma programs with advanced degrees being offered around the world.
Many studies, commissions and strikes by workers have taken place over the years such as the wildcat strike that led the Ontario government to establish the Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines (the Ham Commission). It resulted in the introduction of occupational health and safety legislation in Ontario in 1978 and the development of the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada.
Following the disaster that resulted in the death of 26 miners in Nova Scotia and led by the United Steelworkers of America, Bill C-45, known as the Westray Act, passed with all party agreement in Parliament. The amendment to the Criminal Code became law on March 31, 2004. The bill established new legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposed serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death.
Transitioning in psychological safety
As we end 2014 and begin a new year, I know safety is rising to a new era. This new era must embrace its people — the whole person — and recognize the future health and prosperity of our organizations and communities is dependent on leadership to ensure the physical, psychological, social well-being of our workers.
The transformation of our workplaces and its processes is requiring us to focus on brain power and less on brawn. Most CEOs know they must do this, but often they are struggling with what and how and who. Study after study is telling us that workers and the broader society of today less willing to tolerate unsafe and unhealthy workplaces.
Legislation and regulation is beginning to also engage this. Most jurisdictions in Canada have now regulated bullying and harassment and we are seeing settlements related to physiological health and well-being in tribunal decisions, collective agreements and the courts. Mental health and well-being is the leading issue as we enter 2015, the half way mark of this decade.
In partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de Normalization du Quebec (BNQ) launched a National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in January 2013.
These are tools whose time has come and none too soon. Each day we see the results of poor mental health in organizations, on our streets and in our homes. The workplace cannot, must not, contribute to or be the cause of poor mental health. The first commitment must be to do no harm.
I strongly ask that employers consider the following:
• Do not silo mental health in organizations, furthering the isolation and stigma.
• Do not contribute to the stigmatization that is the root of the problem in many organizations, rather encourage and lead conversation.
• Educate, mentor,and coach managers and supervisors.
Psychological health is integral to a healthy and safe workplace. OHS professionals will be expected to be leaders and partners for integrating mental health into current systems, starting with the health and safety policy.
You will be called upon to lead in engaging partners in the workplace, such as human resources, workers, unions, managers, supervisors and senior executives.
The new era in workplace health and safety embraces the whole person and the whole workplace. We need to adapt our mental models and our systems to embrace all people and not expect those with illnesses to adapt to us.
In order to do so, CRSP and CHSC designations must include modules on psychological health and safety and imbed these throughout the program.
Maureen Shaw is the former president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (now amalgamated into the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services). She spent over 14 years as leader of the IAPA, transforming it from a traditional safety training organization to one that approaches workplaces as psychologically safe and healthy places for people and business to be prosperous. Maureen holds key positions in several national organizations, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada where she is a member of the advisory committee on workforce mental health.