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Creating a standard for psychological health

by  Cheryl A. Edwards

A proposed CSA standard has been developed, setting out optimistic goals and processes for achieving “psychological health and safety” in the workplace.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) released the draft standard on Nov. 1, 2011 for a public consultation that ended on Jan. 6, 2012. The final standard, which is expected to be published in early 2012, is intended to provide organizations with the necessary tools and guidance to achieve “measureable improvements in psychological health and safety” for employees. It prescribes specific steps employers should take to develop and maintain psychologically healthy and safe workplaces.

As currently drafted, the steps prescribed and obligations imposed by the standard are significantly broader than those currently imposed on employers by OHS and human rights legislation. The breadth of the standard also raises concerns about its viability for Canadian employers.

The draft standard requires organizations to draft policy committing to the development, implementation, funding, continuous improvement and review of a systematic approach to managing a psychological health and safety (PHS) system.

In addition, leaders — those with “key responsibility for the organization’s performance — have special obligations to develop a “psychologically healthy and safe workplace,” one that “promotes workers’ psychological well-being and allows no harm to worker mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways.” This is done by leading in a “positive way,” making psychological health and safety part of decision making, and “engaging” workers to understand the importance of PHS and the risks of PHS hazards, determine the effectiveness of the PHS system and identify workplace PHS needs.

Organizations are required by the standard to “engage stakeholders” to determine their PHS needs, encourage participation in programs to meet those needs and in the PHS system evaluation process, and ensure that the results of the evaluation process are communicated. Organizations must provide time and resources, identify and remove barriers, and train and consult with workers in all aspects of the PHS system associated with their work.

Organizations must also educate stakeholders about stigma, psychological illness, PHS and PHS policies, and provide a process for input. They must inform external parties about PHS policies, monitor compliance with those policies, and address any PHS issues that arise.

Development, implementation
If there is an existing PHS system in place, the standard recommends that it be reviewed to determine compliance with the standard. If a PHS system does not exist, an organization must gather the necessary information to develop a PHS system.

The standard requires organizations to set PHS objectives, develop a plan to meet those objectives and, at least every three years, review the achievement of those objectives. It also requires organizations to define minimum PHS requirements and provide training and support to workers and management to enable them to meet these minimum requirements.

Organizations are required to identify “hazards” — a potential source of psychological harm to a worker — and assess the risks of those hazards. Once they are identified and assessed, organizations must establish and maintain processes to eliminate or prevent their occurrence, protect workers and foster a psychologically healthy workplace. They must also plan to manage changes that can affect PHS and provide information, training and assistance to workers and stakeholders regarding those changes.

Identifying, investigating incidents
Organizations must identify events where psychological illness or injury has or may occur, develop a process to respond to those events and to provide support, training and debriefing opportunities to responding personnel. Organizations have similar obligations in relation to events that pose PHS risks at the organizational level without individual illness or injury. Reporting and investigation processes for “work-related injuries, illnesses, acute traumatic events, chronic stressors, fatalities (including suicides) and PHS system incidents” must also be implemented.  After an investigation, recommendations for PHS system improvement must be developed and communicated to affected parties and form the basis for corrective action.

Monitor, audit, improve 
Organizations must monitor PHS and the PHS system to determine, among other things, whether objectives are being met and hazards are identified, assessed and controlled. The standard also requires organizations to establish audit programs to determine compliance with the standard and internal PHS system requirements, and whether the system is effectively implemented and maintained. Management must ensure that documented corrective action is taken and that corrective actions and the results of the audit are communicated to affected workplace parties.

OHS law comparison
The proposed standard aims to improve psychological safety which, under the standard, is synonymous with “mental health” — broadly defined as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

The breadth of this definition is at odds with ( Read more … )

Source: Canadian Occupational Safety

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