Your safety policies need to address mental health, too


Improper handling of a forklift truck, even the slightest misjudgement, can result in harm or injury to oneself or a fellow worker which could have lifelong repercussions. That’s why safety policies and programs at work are so crucial to address physical safety. But there’s more to a worker’s wellbeing than the physical.

Traditionally, retail safety programs have been about preventing physical accidents. A case in point: Home Depot Canada spends about a third of its roughly 20 hours of “Before the Apron” new-hire training focused on physical safety. This includes hazardous materials, working at heights, equipment safety, and customer safety protocols.

Mental health in the workplace was the subject of a seminar at the Retail Council of Canada’s Human Resources Conference, held recently in Toronto. The presenter was Kristy Cork, a workplace mental health consultant based in St. Thomas, Ont. Her seminar focused on “steps retailers can take today to improve psychological health and safety in existing safety programs.”

It’s not simply about “stress,” Cork said. “Work is never going to be stress-free. So, if we focus only on stress, we are missing a big part of the issue.”

The upside of having mental health policies is that employee retention goes up. The alternative, if your employees don’t outright quit, is “quiet quitting.” Cork defined this as an attitude in which the worker says, “I’m not going to work for the equivalent of 65 hours a week anymore. I’m only going to do what’s in my job description.”

Cork listed 10 major causes of work-related stress: heavy workload, changes within organizations, job insecurity, lack of autonomy, over-supervision, lack of proper resources, lack of equipment, few opportunities for promotion, insufficient training, and long hours.

How to improve your workers’ mental health? “You cannot, in any workplace, prevent mental harm if you don’t know what your hazards are,” Cork said. “You have to do an assessment. You have to talk to people. You don’t start throwing darts at the wall hoping you’ll hit the problem.”

The best way to begin this process is through an employee survey. Cork has tracked her clients’ results and found out that, on average, only about 30 percent of employees answer “yes” to the question: “Does your employer promote a healthy work environment?”