Mental health and emotional wellness are becoming an increasingly important role for workplaces to consider in their health and safety management systems. Employers are required to provide workers with tasks that are safe to do so, and workers are required to complete the said tasks; however, it is both the worker and employer’s responsibility to ensure that the worker is fit for the task, both physically and psychologically, as good mental health is the foundation for a safe workplace. The term “fit for duty” incorporates all sides of the worker being competent to work both physically and mentally every day and complete the required tasks that are outlined in their responsibilities. If a worker is not mentally well, there is a major risk associated with whether the tasks assigned could be completed safely or not.
When an individual is struggling with mental health, it can be debilitating; the usual thought processes can be clouded with misguided decision making and regular safety controls could be ignored. While worker mental health can initially only impact job performance and overall productivity, it can also lead to a significant decline in safety performance and physical capabilities of performing the work all together. Therefore, if an employee is facing any struggles with depression, hazard controls – that lower the overall risk rating of a task – could be misused or even ignored and thus would increase the risk of the hazard.
As an employer, it is their duty to provide a workplace that is safe for all workers, and the effects of mental illness can be felt on productivity and the whole work environment. It is important to understand as an employer, the signs and symptoms of individuals who are struggling with their psychological health. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness vary based on the disease; however, a few general examples can include loss of interest in work and hobbies, mood changes, lethargy, irritability, changes in eating habits, social isolation, breaking plans, substance abuse, absenteeism, unexplainable bodily injuries, etc. One of the simplest controls to introduce in the workplace is to assist worker’s who are struggling with their psychological health by ensuring there is a positive company culture by ensuring all individuals feel included, respected, and appreciated every day. There are many benefits to introducing positive controls to address mental health hazards, such as engagement, increased morale, retention and recruitment, overall productivity. On the other hand, this practice would also reduce worker absenteeism, health costs, medical and disability leave (both short term and long term), and workplace injuries.
While it may seem daunting as an employer to put policies in place that can address the many different forms of psychological wellbeing of employees, there are hazard controls that can be implemented to improve the overall mental safety of a workforce. Some examples of hazard controls that can be implemented include:
• Encourage all employees to bring forward any concerns or struggles they are having with a supervisor or a mental health professional,
• Create an understanding of the power of language and how coworkers engage with one another – tone makes a huge difference,
• Promote work-life balance,
• Provide a mental health self-assessment tool to all employees,
• Provide training for all employees, especially management, on how to handle and address symptoms of stress and psychological health in workers,
• Create a positive and transparent work environment that allows employees to be involved in the policy making procedure regarding workplace stress,
• Provide either a counseling service or a subsidized program to enable workers to seek professional help,
• Host annual seminars or training workshops that inform workers on how to address, process, and manage mental health and proper techniques that can improve focus and motivation.
It is important to incorporate psychological hazards into the regular hazard assessment process to ensure that a company’s commitment to health and safety includes not only the physical but also the mental and social well-being of employees. By promoting and encouraging workers to embrace their mental wellness, a workforce can experience a more positive and productive workplace.