Canadian Occupational Safety

January/February 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 15 of 27

16 Canadian Occupational Safety around… You're like, 'What the hell is wrong with me?'" Leadership also needs training on how to have conversations with employees when they notice these changes, says Burych, who developed PTSD when she worked in front-line mental health many years ago. "If your leaders are not trained but you have all these policies and pro- cedures in place, employees are not going to come forward because they will be scared," she says. Unlike a physical injury, psycho- logical injuries are much harder to recognize and those suffering are often adept at hiding their symptoms. Employees can be "the best actors in the world," says Kerr, so training for leaders is particulary important. "Honest to God, my manager had no clue what I was battling with, he had no idea," Kerr says. "No disrespect to him, he wouldn't have known, he was an old trades guy as well and it would not have been on his radar to pick up on what I was dealing with." Many of the tools and resources that employers can put in place to support the mental health of safety profession- als will also benefit the organization as a whole. Nault recommends employers adopt the voluntary National Stan- dard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Every organization needs a policy that says it supports the mental health of its employees and outlines the resources available. An employee assistance program should be in place along with benefits coverage for psy- chological services, Burych says. Kerr speaks highly of the Mental Health First Aid course and says it's a really important tool that will help employers. The course was developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and trains participants on how to help someone who is devel- oping a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. One area that could be a great source of support is the educational institutions that train safety profes- sionals, says Nault. For example, police officers, first responders and social workers are all taught how to manage high-stress incidents and pro- tect their own psychological health and safety. The vast majority (86 per to be aware of potential liabilities, how to avoid them and what actions to take, Nault says. "As long as they take the appropri- ate actions and document them, they should know they are pretty much protected," he says. "That's not going to remove the anxiety of it, there's always that stress of, 'Did I make the right choice? Did I push hard enough for management to make the right choice?' But due diligence training is a big aspect of helping health and safety professionals understand what those lines are and what the expectations are of them." It's crucial that safety professionals take proper care of their mental health to avoid the onset of dis- orders or other serious issues. A good first step is resilience training to learn how to effectively manage in difficult situations, rec- ommends Nault. If there is a work- place incident, a debriefing should take place with all involved. A second debriefing should take place with just the safety professional, Nault recommends. "So, the health and safety profes- sional knows that they have a chance to talk and talk openly. And they can determine on their own if they need more; they can go forward from there," he says. "The other benefit is that debriefing for the health and safety professional is documented, so if there are problems further on, stress- related work challenges, other mental health issues that come up… it makes it so much easier to access resources." To protect his mental health, Kerr is very diligent about turning his cellphone off in the evenings and he takes time for himself and doing the things he loves. Other techniques that can help pro- mote positive mental health include taking regular work breaks, practising meditation and mindfulness, and exer- cising. Christine Burych, president of StarlingBrook Leadership Consulting in Toronto, recommends journaling, positive thinking, volunteering and taking time to recharge. SUPPORT REQUIRED Organizational leaders need to be trained on the signs of mental health issues, which can include mood swings, irritability, social isolation, increased absences, poor sleep and physical aches and pains. "My mental problems came out in anger; came out big time in road rage. I would find myself flying off the handle in my own truck by myself," Kerr says. "If I wasn't mad as hell, I was bawling my eyes out when no one was Unfortunately, Kerr's situation is not unique. According to a survey in September of 400 health and safety professionals by Canadian Occupational Safety, 25 per cent said they have been diagnosed with a mental health disor- der. Depression is the most common diagnosis, affecting 29 per cent of those respondents with a mental health disorder, followed by anxiety (27 per cent) and PTSD (11 per cent). But it's not just formal mental health disorders that are cause for concern. According to the survey, the following issues are ones that COS readers are currently experiencing or have expe- rienced over the course of their safety career: fatigue (74 per cent), burnout (56 per cent), extreme stress (54 per cent) and insomnia (45 per cent). INCREASED RISK Much like those who work in the health-care profession, health and safety professionals want to make a difference, but with that level of dedi- cation comes increased susceptibility to the stressors of the job, says Mau- reen Shaw, Victoria-based advisor for the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC and the BC Safety Charter, and retired president and CEO of Ontario's Industrial Accident Prevention Asso- ciation (now Workplace Safety and Prevention Services). "They internalize it, but you can only internalize so much," she says. Safety professionals can be exposed to a wide range of difficult scenarios on the job. While 60 per cent of survey respondents have never been involved in a workplace fatality, 19 per cent were required to conduct the investigation after a worker died at their com- pany. Thirty-seven per cent of survey respondents had to conduct the inves- tigation after an employee sustained a serious traumatic injury (such as dis- figurement, dismemberment or loss or limitation of the use of a body organ, function or system). Twenty-two per cent were involved in supporting the employee post-incident, while 19 per cent were first on the scene. The challenge is to look at these inci- dents objectively, says Lawrence Nault, CEO of Leveraged Nuance Consultant Group in Calgary. Nault worked in health and safety for many years before opening his own consulting firm. "They have to create an emotional disconnect to properly evaluate what's going on," he says. "As they go through the incident investigation… they are exposed to not only all the aspects of what happened, but all the emotions of the people that were involved. Without some knowl- edge and training on how to manage those emotions yourself, they tend to pile up and can become a mental health issue for the safety professional." Two-thirds (66 per cent) of survey respondents said they take it person- ally when incidents occur at their workplace. Kerr found this to be a regular issue he faced throughout his career and Shaw can relate, too. "In my career, I have witnessed a few things, and it does keep you awake at night and you wonder, 'What could we have done to prevent this incident from happening?'" she says. "Those traumatic events have lasting effects on most people." In his new job, Kerr tries to rely on an independent safety management system to ensure he doesn't take things too personally. For example, if there is a motor vehicle incident at Burlington Hydro, supervisors know exactly what to do — they are not call- ing him for help. "I believe safety people… become too personally involved. If you are the go-to person constantly and you haven't built independence into your organization, that go-to person is going to take things very personally all their career," Kerr says. Even the less serious incidents can be difficult. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of COS survey respondents have been involved in an incident that was not a fatality, serious injury or critical injury but that was still emotionally taxing. In 2013, a safety professional for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in Ontario went off work after she developed an anxiety disorder due to the fear of being held personally liable for workplace incidents. She was responsible for asbestos removal at the board, but the Ministry of Labour had been critical of their asbestos removal procedures. As the supervisor of these projects, she said she was personally threatened with a substantial fine. It's important for safety professionals 25 47 49 % % % of safety professionals have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder say work negatively impacts their mental health 28 % believe they are at risk of developing a mental health disorder 66 % take it personally when workplace incidents occur have sought professional help to support their mental health

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