WCB to roll out psychological safety strategy and resources

WCB chair Gord Dobrowolsky (right) and CEO Phillip Germain take questions at Plaza 88 in Prince Albert on Oct. 23, 2019 during the annual rate meeting. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and WorkSafe Saskatchewan have formed a partnership with a renowned psychologist who specializes in mental health and the workplace as the number of mental health injuries continues to rise.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan and the WCB announced the partnership earlier this week. Dr. Joti Samra is working with the province to develop a resource centre to help businesses support mentally healthy and safe workplaces for their staff.

While mental health claims only account for a small percentage of what’s submitted to WCB each year, the numbers are rising rapidly. Since 2015, 2,497 claims have been submitted, of which 952 have been accepted. The number of accepted claims has risen by 213 per cent since 2015.

Those are claims where the primary concern is a mental illness or disorder.

“Behind each of these claims is a worker who has suffered,” said vice president of employer services at the Saskatchewan WCB, Kevin Mooney.

“They may have suffered from anxiety or depression, they may have been harassed or bullied at work or had an unsupportive boss or unrealistically heavy workloads. Workers and employers need help.”

That’s where the new partnership comes in.

Dr. Samra will work with WorkSafe to develop long-term psychological health and safety strategy for the province.

Samra will support that project by offering office hours for consultation. Ther will be peer learning groups and specific resources for high-risk industries experiencing a larger number of psychological claims. WorkSafe Saskatchewan is hoping to build capacity to deliver services to the topic of mental well being to employers and workers in the province.

Samra is no stranger to WorkSafe Saskatchewan. She has presented at a conference in Regina, and worked to develop national standards for psychological health and safety in the workplace, the first of its kind in the world. She’s also the CEO and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, a full-suite, national workplace consulting firm.

Most of her 20-year career has seen her involved in mental health in the workplace.

That national standard is voluntary, but it requires organizations to work to promote individual psychological health and prevent harm to workers in negligent, intentional or reckless ways.

Those standards require a high level of understanding and awareness of how to implement them, something very new for most organizations, who may not even be aware that the standards exist.

“One of our overarching aims is to tale what is a technical .. standard and make it very accessible for the average employer and average employee,” Dr. Samra said.

“Helping the average business understand what this means for them.”

Part of the initiative within the province’s strategy will be the resource centre, which will have written resources, podcasts, videos, blogs and webinars.

That resource centre will launch online in the fall and be hosted on the WorkSafe Saskatchewan website.

The idea is for resources to be easy to understand and free to access, allowing more small businesses, some of which may not even have a formal human resources department, to improve the psychological health of their workplace. Mooney and Samra said they expect that the COVID-19 pandemic will only heighten existing need.

Dr. Samra said the resource centre will have three main areas, including equipping employers with resources, strategies, access plans and workplace assessments in a very lay-friendly way; Creating tools and strategies that are layman-friendly for leaders, and then highlighting the psychological health and resilience of all parts of an organization.

“We know that at the best of times, our mental health public system is grossly under-meeting needs people have,” Dr. Samra said.

That’s why, she said, the resource centre will have “multimedia, innovative resources that will help employers .. develop resources that enhance mental health.”

Sectors designated as high-risk will have additional supports. That includes front-line workers, first responders, health care workers, corrections officers, truck and transit drivers and teachers.

Those supports will involve, in some cases, connecting to already-available services, such as the website and committee designed to support first-responders who suffer occupational stress injuries on the job.

Dr. Samra said she’s connected with Dr. Nick Carleton of the University of Regina who has done a lot of work on post-traumatic stress injuries experienced by first responders and medical personnel.

“We’ll be integrating and we’re open to input or suggestions or other groups that may be helpful to us,” Samra said.

The new strategy and resource centre has been developed with both employers and workers in mind. The WCB sent a survey to 22,000 of its members to see what they needed. They also reached out to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the early aims that we have is to increase awareness of the (mental health) standard. For the first time, it gives a frame for organizations on how to approach what are often very complicated issues as they pertain to mental health. When we’re dealing with a worker dealing with an anxiety disorder, there are more complications than dealing with a broken leg,” Samra said.

One of the most helpful things for organizations she’s worked with is that the understanding helps give them direction on how to approach complex issues. The program is also designed to ensure that lack of funds is not a barrier to accessing supports such as content they can share and build off of.

 “The vast majority (of businesses) will say they’re doing very little for mental health. The average workplace is not doing anything specific,” Samra said.

“our vision is we’re going to create very practical tools for employees and workers in this province so they can employ the standard,” Mooney said. “We want to break it down and make it simple for them.”

Mooney and Samra said businesses who participate will see positive spinoffs of their own.

“When we have work environments that are high in health and safety, physical outcomes are better, accidents and illnesses and injuries are reduced,” Samra said.

“There are a lot of tangible metrics that benefit employee health … when workers are in environments that are psychologically healthy and safe.”