Health and Safety rights

Unions have fought hard to protect workers on the job. As a result, the law provides the following rights for all workers:

  • The right to know (about hazards and risks)
  • The right to refuse (unsafe work)
  • The right to participate (in decision-making jointly with the employer to address health and safety concerns)

Psychologically healthy and safe workplaces

Employers are starting to be held accountable for psychological health and safety at work, in addition to physical health and safety. There is an emerging duty in Canada calling on employers to provide and maintain a psychologically safe workplace.

What is a “National Standard” for psychological health and safety?

Standards recognized by the Canadian Standards Association and The Bureau de normalization du Québec reflect a national consensus for best practices in a given industry. They are not laws, but organizations adopt them as guidelines for their own policies and procedures. This creates a voluntary “industry standard.”

In 2013, The Canadian Standards Association published the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Employers, unions including CUPE, mental health organizations and governments collaborated to develop it.

The Standard includes these 13 factors:

  • Psychological support
  • Organizational culture (trust, honesty, and fairness)
  • Clear leadership and expectations
  • Civility and respect
  • Psychological demands (are monitored and managed)
  • Growth and development
  • Recognition and reward
  • Involvement and influence (workers are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made)
  • Workload management (reasonable time allowed to accomplish tasks and responsibilities)
  • Engagement (workers enjoy and feel connected to their work)
  • Balance (recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life)
  • Psychological protection (workers feel comfortable putting themselves on the line, asking questions, seeking feedback, reporting mistakes and problems, or proposing a new idea, without the fear of negative consequences)
  • Protection of physical safety (protection from hazards and risks related to the workers’ physical environment)

What is happening with implementation?

The Canadian Mental Health Commission is encouraging workplaces to implement the CSA standard.

Employers who comply with the Standard will:

  • take measures to prevent and protect workers from psychological harm;
  • provide training and education to promote psychological health and safety;
  • involve a diversity of workers in identifying problems and solutions;
  • develop a clear process for reporting, investigating and monitoring psychological health and safety concerns;
  • be encouraged to conduct regular internal audits; and
  • collect data and develop a plan to control for risks related to the 13 factors affecting psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Employers in both the public and private sector have begun the process of implementing the Standard.

Here is an example:

The employer and union worked together at one publicly funded long-term care centre to improve the balance between work and family life for workers. The staff at the facility were mostly female and included both permanent unionized and contract workers. Ensuring adequate staffing levels was a constant challenge.

By talking to workers, the employer discovered that many of them faced conflicting pressures between family responsibilities and attendance at work. Specifically, many workers had young children and had insufficient childcare arrangements that could fall through on a given day. In collaboration, the union and employer came up with a plan to address the problem that involved several initiatives:

  • They provided new parents with prepared meals to take home for dinner for the first six months upon their return to work;
  • They negotiated a reduced rate for employees at a local, regulated child care centre;
  • They introduced a program that paired some children of staff with residents. Staff could occasionally bring their children to work. This gave the children a chance to see what their parents did for a living, and an opportunity to connect with elders in their community. This was also of great benefit to the residents.

These very low-cost solutions had a big impact on staff affected by them, especially on school holidays. Meanwhile staffing issues and overtime costs were greatly reduced. Other facilities in the same health authority have since introduced similar measures.

How can I find out more about the Standard?

This short video is a great primer on the importance of psychological health and safety at work:

For more information about the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, to download the Standard or the Implementation Guide, or to access other tools and resources visit the Mental Health Commission’s website.

Bargaining checklist for mental health

Make mental health a bargaining priority for your local. Here’s some steps you can take in the workplace to improve mental health supports.

  • Initiate a process to put the National Standard in place in your workplace (a joint committee with timelines).
  • Audit the workplace on an ongoing basis for psychological safety.
  • Bargain for stronger “duty to accommodate” language.
  • Bargain for psychological health and safety rights.
  • Assess and improve benefits – include psychological and other counselling services for workers and their families.
  • Join the Employee Assistance Program.
  • Advocate for wellness and work-life balance programs.
  • Monitor member workloads and address changes in workload.
  • Request education and training for workers and management, such as mental health first aid training.
  • Bargain for a graduated return to work protocol.

What else is going on?

In addition to the National Standard, there are other important developments to watch. Some provinces are adding workplace violence, harassment and bullying to health and safety legislation. Also, workers compensation boards are starting to recognize ongoing workplace stress symptoms (for example, post-traumatic stress disorder) as compensable injuries.

This all means that employers, workers, their unions, and Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees are focusing on preventing mental, as well as physical, injuries. Stewards and health and safety activists can work together to create healthier and safer workplaces.