Canada begins developing a National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Mental health is attracting a huge amount of attention in western countries but much of this has a public health focus.  Workplace mental health is not getting enough attention even though, correctly applied, this collective term could include the occupational hazards of stress, bullying, depression and suicide.

Canada has leapt ahead of most countries by committing to develop a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.  According to a backgrounder on the initiative, the Standard

“…will be a stand‐alone voluntary standard. It will provide a methodology that will lead to measureable improvements in psychological health and safety for Canadian employees in their workplaces.”

Significantly, the business case for the Standard is expected to result in

  • enhanced cost effectiveness,
  • improved risk management,
  • increased organizational recruitment and retention [and
  • increased] corporate social responsibility.

This Canadian initiative has considerable merit and may provide the (non-regulatory) glue that is needed to supply a business-friendly management structure for a range of workplace mental health issues that are being combatted in isolation from one another.  Workplace depression is fighting for attention against bullying which is battling out of a subset of stress………

The chair of the  Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), Michael Kirby, speaks of the importance of mental health in the video below.

An MHCC media release summarises Kirby’s speech by saying:

“Once completed, the voluntary National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace will provide organizations with the tools to achieve measurable improvement in psychological health and safety for Canadian employees.”

The applicability of the National Standard to other jurisdictions should be fairly simple.  The MHCC says:

“The Standard will follow the 5‐element ISO format so that it aligns with other standards that employers and employees are familiar with—particularly the ISO 14000, OHSAS 18000, ISO 9000, the CSA Z 1000 and Z1002 series, and BNQ’s Healthy Enterprise Standard.”

The presence of the OHS management systems standard 18000 will be of particular interest to OHS professionals.  One particularly odd omission is the international risk management standard, ISO 31000, considering the business case above specifies “improved risk management”.

This strategy of building a National Standard may also provide more international and overt traction to the issue, a traction that does not seem to have occurred with the work of Dame Carol Black in England.

Australia needs to take a close look at the Canadian initiative as all indications are that the upcoming harmonisation legislation and related documents will continue to sidestep the revolutionary potential of adequately addressing workplace mental health.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “Canada begins developing a National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace”

  1. Interesting article Kevin. Re the omission of ISO 31000 – I don\’t read anything in to that, as the explanation is that the new standard \”aligns with other standards that employers and employees are familiar with\”. The standards cited are those for external certification purposes, which ISO 31000 isn\’t. It\’s a guidance document, more analogous to AS 4804 or ISO 14004, rather than the equivalent management standards (AS 4801 and ISO 14001, respectively.)

  2. This is such an important step in the right direction. My only hope is that people who have a mental health issue that has not prevented them from working at full capacity are not pushed out of the work place due to fear on behalf of the workplace.

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