WorkSafe Saskatchewan introduces tool to help businesses address psychological health and safety

Dr. Joti Samra helped the province create its new virtual psychological health and safety resource centre. Submitted photo.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan is hoping that a newly released suite of tools will help businesses better care for the psychological needs of their workers.

On Wednesday WorkSafe Saskatchewan launched an online psychological resource centre for employers and workers. The goal of the resource is to equip managers and supervisors with the tools they need to develop psychologically healthy and safe workplaces.

The resource centre was created and launched in partnership with Dr. Joti Samra, a national expert on issues relating to psychological health, wellness and resilience who has contributed significantly to the development of Canada’s world-first national standards for psychological health and safety in the workplace. Dr. Samra is also the CEO and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, a full-suite national workplace consulting firm as well as the clinic founder of Dr. Joti Samra Psych and Associates, a clinical counselling practice.

“Our organizations are far more than just bricks and mortar,” Dr. Samra said.

“We know it’s about people. We know that when we protect and care for people and give support around all the things that impact psychological health, that ultimately it’s a win-win.”

Samra said organizations with psychologically healthy and safe workplaces see better employee retention, recruitment, engagement and productivity. She added that the resource centre announced Wednesday will also help organizations meet what’s expected under the national standards for psychological health and safety. While those standards are voluntary, she said, they are looked to by judges and tribunals should a claim emerge.

The standard outlines 13 factors that affect the psychological health and safety of workers, including the clarity of leadership within an organization, the amount of stability and respect that they have, how much involvement they have over decisions that affect the way they do their work and more. That’s in addition to supporting employees struggling with anxiety or depression disorders.

“To date, we’ve got a policy that outlines the practices that organizations should be undertaking, yet we haven’t had any good kind of resource portals that organizations can go to to say, ‘where do I start?’” Samra said.

“Our high-level aim was to create an engaging and inviting … practical resource portal, where employers of all sizes, all the way from the small mom and pop owner-operated business up to the large organizations could come on, get a one-on-one on what the national standard means, and be able to access a range of free, evidence-based resources that can help them start their journey towards psychological health and safety.”

The resource centre is the first phase of the project, Samra said. It helps organizations to understand what psychological health and safety are, what it means, why it matters and what the best practices are. There are resources oriented towards senior executives and managers, as well as resources and supports aimed at individual employees.

The national standard says that anyone who’s a “people leader” — that is anyone responsible for managing, leading or supervising another person, even if it’s just one other person, has a higher responsibility to create environments that are psychologically healthy and safe.

In addition to the resource centre, WorkSafe and Dr. Samra are launching webinars and podcasts to give employers more resources to protect the psychological health and safety of their workers.

The resources, Samra said, are designed for regular people who aren’t psychologists. 

As the resource centre grows, WorkSafe and Dr. Samra will work on building a range of toolkits businesses can access. Some will deal with returning to work amid a pandemic, while others will be targeted to occupations in “high-risk sectors.”

WorkSafe and WCB have looked at the data in Saskatchewan and across Canada to identify 13 occupations they’re focusing on, which include health care, sales, service, transportation and first responders.

“We know that in certain sectors and groups — I’ll use first responders as a very relevant example, we would know that rates of Post-traumatic stress disorder are much higher among first responder groups,” Dr. Samra said.

“ We know that there are unique considerations that we need to think about when we’re providing support to unique sectors. “

The timing of the resource centre is key, said Kevin Mooney, the vice president of prevention and employer services at the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). From 2016 to 2020, the WCB has seen growing numbers of psychological claims for workplace injuries. The number of accepted claims has increased from 106 in 2016 to 274 in 2020.

“We’ve been reaching out through our labour organizations, through employer group organizations to understand what the needs are and what the gaps are,” Mooney said.

“We’re trying to address those needs through the resource centre.”

The resources come too as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to weigh on workers’ mental health.

Dr. Samra said that, on the whole, anxiety rates have quadrupled, depression rates have doubled and rates of alcohol consumption have increased about 25 per cent since the pandemic hit.

“That’s just the prevalence data that we’ve seen nationally,” Dr. Samra said.

“None of us shut the door on our personal lives, especially these days with those of us … working from home. We bring those things to the work environment.”

Prior to COVID, she said, about 20 per cent of people will deal with a diagnosable psychological health issue In their lives. In the past year, for Canadian workers, that’s doubled for the most common mental health issues.

“When we see the impact that has on things like productivity and performance, we know that performance issues in the best of times are perhaps the most challenging issues that leaders in organizations will have in terms of managing and dealing with,” she said.

“It’s become a time where there is … a need within an organization to ensure people are showing up and performing in the way that’s needed while balancing that with giving the emotional support that, very understandably, so many are also requiring at this point. When I’m speaking to senior leaders, I’ll say this (framework) helps give you a frame for the things that are difficult and guide you towards knowing how to do the right thing.”

The resource centre can be found on the WorkSafe Saskatchewan website under the resources tab. It includes sections such as workplace psychological health and safety, psychologically safe leadership, information on high-risk occupations, tools and resources for leaders and workers, mental health resources and webinars.

** This story has been corrected to fix a typo in a quote. The Herald regrets the error and apologizes to WCB Saskatchewan.