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What role should safety professionals play in worker mental wellness?


When talking about mental wellness in the workplace, many companies relegate this part to human resources or refer to the employee assistance program. Rarely do they say that supervisors and occupational health and safety professionals need to be involved too!


The topic of mental health is often framed as personal or too sensitive to discuss with workers. But to see it that way is to misunderstand the role of supervisors and preventionists in addressing mental health.


Let me explain.


Imagine being in the field. Do you diagnose the physical health of your workers (aside from first aid situations)? Do you offer them treatment? Do you ask them personal details about their physical condition? I'm guessing the answer is no because you, as a supervisor or preventionist, are not a health professional!


You are a preventionist.


For mental health, it's the same thing. As an OHS professional or supervisor, you are not in a position to diagnose mental health or suggest treatment to your colleagues, but you can do prevention, and help people understand that it is okay to talk about mental health. And you'll find that talking about it and not making it a taboo subject in your workplace will help reduce the risks for workers as well as for everyone else in the organization.


Why?


First, because a worker's mental state could affect his or her ability to make good decisions and recognize potential dangers and risks.


Secondly, because not talking about mental health and acting as if it were only a personal issue increases the negative impacts on your workers' psychological health (distress, depression, anxiety disorders) and even their physical health (musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease).


Thirdly, when the protection of the psychological safety of employees is not sufficient, you are also taking a risk for the organization, which may face a degradation of productivity, absences, a consequent turnover rate, a degradation of the social climate and so on!


This is why it is important to approach mental health risks in the same way as you approach physical risks. That is to say, by doing prevention, by talking about it and especially by putting actions in place.


To help you meet this challenge here are some tips:


● Start by learning about psychosocial risks. It's really essential to educate yourself on this topic to better understand the intricacies and know how to act!

● Encourage conversations about mental health. By doing so, you will help to reduce the stigma that prevents workers from addressing potential problems. For example, you can encourage these conversations, at start-of-shift meetings or at the coffee machine.

● Foster a company culture that values mental health.

● Work with workers to mitigate work-related stressors that may contribute to mental health problems. This can be done through: workload assessment, supporting employees, facilitating work/life balance, empowering etc.


My objective here is not to encourage you to become a psychologist or to divert your attention from the "traditional" aspect of the prevention profession, but rather to draw your attention to an aspect of worker health and safety that is often neglected or even forgotten...


If you want to help your supervisors and preventionists to better address these topics, please contact us! The best companies invest in the health, safety and well-being of their workers all year long. And if you want to learn more about psychosocial risks, here is a podcast episode that you might find useful


Credit Image from cookie_studio on Freepik

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