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A new mental harm prevention road map for Canada


By: Andrew Harkness, Bill Howatt

COVID-19 has shone a light on mental health in Canada and challenged employers to focus more on supporting employees’ through this challenging time.

Organizations large and small often do not fully grasp how to support employees with their mental health needs. The conversation surrounding psychological health and safety in Canada is still relatively new.

Fortunately, there is the Canadian Standards Association and Mental Health Commission of Canada Psychological Health and Safety Standard, which was developed in 2013. This is a significant piece of work that has helped to elevate the conversation around mental health in the workplace.

Equally important, this new voluntary standard is the first framework of its kind for implementing a psychological health and safety management system (PSHSMS) within Canadian organizations. The intention is to assist decision making regarding what an employer can do to prevent mental harm and promote positive mental health throughout a workplace.

Organizations large and small often do not fully grasp how to support employees with their mental health needs.

Over the past few years, major changes in occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation around harassment and workplace violence at both the provincial and federal levels has amplified the conversation and put more burden on employers to act. They are starting to explore what they can do to create a psychologically healthy and safe work environment.

While mostly positive, one challenge that the national standard presents is that it is written in normative language that can be overwhelming to human resources professionals who are tasked with managing mental health with no training in OHS management systems.

Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) consultants have been working with organizations for several years, supporting them with the  implementation of mental health programs and policies, and helping them to adopt the national standard. WSPS has observed that many small and medium-sized organizations lack the internal resources and budgets to successfully implement a PSHSMS.

Large organizations often do not fully grasp how the continual improvement part of the standard works. Clients often ask: “We have implemented the standard, what’s next?” That ask this question because they do not grasp the standard’s “Plan–Do–Check–Act (PDCA)” continuous improvement framework.

The national standard was never designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution. It was created to be a decision-making guide for employers. It includes a formal auditing and reporting component to facilitate the PDCA and to close non-conformity issues.

WSPS created the Road Map to support the national standard’s implementation and to facilitate evidence-based research to measure how adopting some or all of its building blocks can improve employees’ psychological health and safety.

The Road Map’s eight building blocks are designed to work collectively, but its design is not linear, suggesting an employer can start where they identify a priority and have the budget and resources to make an impact.

The Conference Board of Canada’s Moving to Action report introduces the first step in the evolution of the Road Map. This primer outlines each of the eight building blocks as well as some findings from the first evidence-based research to create version 1.0. The Road Map will evolve over the next couple of years as it is tested with WSPS clients.

Over the coming weeks and months, additional resources and tools will be released to support employers interested in leveraging the Road Map to have a positive impact on their employees’ psychological health and safety.