National Roundtable on Occupational Health and Safety
Monday, August 09, 2010
Topic of Discussion:
Canada's Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, met stakeholders in Toronto to discuss occupational health and safety (OHS) issues with a focus on mental health in the workplace.
Stakeholders in Attendance: 17 stakeholders and 1 Labour Program official attended. List of participants is presented below.
Highlights of Discussion:
The Minister welcomed and introduced participants and made introductory remarks, as follows:
- At every level of an organization, dealing with stress and anxiety is becoming increasingly difficult. Stigma supersedes awareness and action.
- Due to the stigma attached to mental health, employees often don't want to come forward and express their concerns to their employer. Such employees may become more isolated under mental stress leading to further mental illness and depression.
- With an estimated 500,000 Canadians missing work each day due to mental health issues, it was important for the Government of Canada (GoC) to organize these OHS Roundtables.
- The government is looking to shape and define its role in ensuring safe workplaces using stakeholders' perspectives.
Additional opening comments:
- The Minister wished to hear from all stakeholders present at the roundtable about lessons learned, best practices, as well any advice they may wish to give to the GoC on OHS issues.
- In planning the next generation of policy, she raised deep concerns regarding the striking statistics of violence in the workplace. This is particularly true in the federal public service, where 40% of claims are related to stress at the workplace.
- The Minister looked to the participating stakeholders as experts to help the government focus on bringing attention to the important issue of mental health in the workplace.
The key speaker Bill Wilkerson  raised the following main points:
- Labour Ministers have a vital role regarding standards of employment including management of mental health issues
- Estimates show that 75% of the new jobs coming on stream in the U.S. and Canadian economies require cerebral rather than manual skills.
- Depression and anxiety disorders have been growing in numbers and are most common among men and women in their prime working ages.
- There needs to be principles of well-being. Policy should stipulate that fairness, transparency, and thoughtful reflection will be expected in the workplace.
The stakeholders present at the roundtable raised a number of challenges that they currently face:
- There are currently no national standards for psychological safety in the workplace.
- Mental health is very much linked with the productivity of an employee. A better mental state is germane to the creativity and efficiency of an employee. This linkage often lacks sufficient recognition.
- OHS regulations are commonly geared towards larger workplaces. Employees working in smaller workplaces often suffer from lack of attention given to their physical health as well as mental health.
- For those away from workplace on long-term disability (LTD), isolation deepens depression and is not conducive to healthy re-integration in the workplace.
- Accounting for those absent from work due to mental health issues alone may not be sufficient as a much higher proportion of those at work may not be functioning properly well either.
- There is lack of widespread recognition and awareness that problems with stress and mental health should be treated as any other physical health problem.
- Further, physical injuries often lead to long-term mental illness. Therefore, it is important not to separate physical and mental illness in workplaces.
- Malingering mental health cases at the workplace exacerbate conditions. Actual costs of dealing with the aftermath exceed the medical costs thought to have been avoided.
- Employees are required to use their full sick leave bank before they can receive LTD benefits. Those with less than 90 days accumulated currently need to go on Employment Insurance for the short term before receiving LTD - leading to a significant drop in income. The origin of the gap is the - absence of short-term disability benefits.
- There is also a lack of standard incentives for employees to remain at work. Approximately three-quarters of people who have been on sick leave for six months become depressed. This in turn is a primary cause for the higher level of disability claims being for mental illness.
Stakeholders pointed to several recommendations:
- Bill 168 of the Ontario Ministry of Labour makes amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act by responding to workplace violence and harassment. The bill has also been expanded to address domestic violence at work, in cases where the employer is aware that one of its employees is affected by domestic violence.
- Adequate tools need to be created which cater in particular to small businesses, in order to comply with legislation addressing situations of mental illness or violence at the workplace.
- Staying connected with employees on longer-term disability via newsletters, outreach and phone calls can have a positive impact and reduce isolation and depression.
- Ninety per cent of workplaces in Canada have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) programs. It is a useful service but there is not an empirical return on investment as EAP is most often a reactive service.
- The Mental Health Commission is piloting projects for anti-stigma initiatives and is conducting studies on what really helps to eliminate stigma.
- It is important to support the development of national standards for mental health in the workplace.
- It is important to ensure that standards and legislation are not "one-size fits all", but can instead be catered to specific cases common to employers whether large or small. Employers need to identify solutions that will be suitable for them.
- Education is needed to train not just employers but colleagues on why it is necessary to accommodate, and how.
- Performance requirements of leaders are needed to drive leaders to change workplaces.
- The front line manager should emerge to identify workplace violence and become an advocate for their employees' mental health.
- Risk assessment may be a useful management practice with relevance to workplace violence.
- Organizational cultures need to be inclusive. It is important to have the ability to embrace those who are different.
- Many of the tools and resources needed by employers now exist in the public domain at no cost and are based on credible research. These tools and resources need to be used and explored more (e.g. Guarding Minds at Work).
- Psychological health should be incorporated in relevant programs at the university level in order to raise awareness and engage individuals at the earliest stage.
- Policies offer opportunities for improvement when embedded with incentive/disincentive strategies. Social policies that present obstacles for those dealing with episodic mental illness need to be revised and structural changes documented.
Minister Raitt concluded the roundtable discussion summarizing what she had heard from the participants, with the following points:
- A business case could to be built to formulate short, medium and long-term views.
- Short-term focus could be in dealing with issues of violence and bullying for individual safety.
- Medium-term focus will be on healthy workplaces as this generates innovation and productivity. Medium term could also incorporate return-to-work and accommodation at the workplace.
- The long-term focus could be where the Government of Canada is involved in addressing statistics such as one in five Canadians will experience mental illness during their lifetime and less than forty % of employers would hire employees with mental health issues.
- Mental health in the workplace is an issue that requires our attention because it is vital to our ability to compete on a global scale. Awareness is essential.
- As a branding exercise, the Minister asked stakeholders to reflect on terminology and to make suggestions as to what specific term to use when referring to mental health in the workplace.
The Minister thanked the stakeholders for the opportunity to discuss with them the issue of mental health in the workplace and committed to taking on board all concerns and proposed solutions.
List of Participants
- The Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour, Government of Canada
- Mary Ann Baynton, Member, Workforce Advisory Committee (WAC) of Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC); and Program Director, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
- Chuck Conlon, Director, Employee & Labour Relations, Human Resources, Union Gas - A Spectra Energy Company
- Normand Coté, Director Employee Relations, BMO, Financial Group
- Richard Dixon, Vice-President, Human Resources, NAV Canada; and Chairman, FETCO
- Joan Eakin, Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
- Catherine Foti, Director, Human Resources, CTV Globe Media
- S Len Hong, President and CEO, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
- Ian T. Howcroft, Vice-President (Ontario Division), Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME)
- Bonnie Kirsh, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto
- Bayla Kolk, Assistant Deputy Minister, Compliance, Operations and Program Development Branch, Labour Program
- François Legault, Director, Employee Assistance Services Bureau at Health Canada
- Colin MacDonald, Policy Advisor, Ontario Ministry of Labour
- John MacNamara, Vice-President, Health & Safety HydroOne
- Kim Sunderland, Project Director, Final Report, Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction & Mental Health
- Marie Clarke Walker, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress
- Bill Wilkerson (Key Speaker), Co-Founder and CEO, Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health
- Kevin Wilson, Acting Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Labour
- Lorne Zon, CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario
 Co-Founder and CEO, Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health back