Healthy Living in the North

Safe and Healthy Workplaces

psychosocial safety at work

Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Did you know: The average full-time worker spends approximately one third of their adult life on the job!

What comes to mind when you think about safety at work? Maybe the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations spring to mind. These legislated requirements provide an essential foundation for a safe workplace. Exposure to physical hazards in the workplace significantly influences our risk of injury and illness. Building a strong OHS Program and Management System to address hazards and risks in the workplace creates a foundation for a safe and healthy workplace.

Within the growing body of workplace research, there is substantial evidence that the psychosocial impacts of work – that is, the impacts of work on the mental health of workers – are just as important as physical hazards. Recently, the BC government enacted legislation to recognize “significant workplace stressors, which may include bullying and harassment” within the Workers Compensation Act.

Embedding principles of psychosocial safety in the workplace involves going beyond regulatory compliance. Psychosocial safety includes aspects of the workplace (e.g. worker participation and engagement within the organization, social connectedness, respect and civility) and the work itself (e.g. job design, role clarity, recognition, fairness, workload, a sense of purpose and meaningful contribution through work). Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Results of a recent large scale study suggest that “reducing risks and hazards and establishing a supportive environment are among the best ways to improve safety.” (Nahrgang, Hofmann, and Morgeson, 2011)

What is a healthy workplace? Graham Lowe (2010) says: “We talk about healthy people as vigorous, flourishing, robust, thriving, resilient, and fit. The same words also describe healthy organizations.”

There are many ways employers can influence workplace health, including:

  • Set and communicate a clear, compelling vision for a healthy workplace.
  • Engage actively and lead by example in efforts to improve health, safety and well-being.
  • Focus on prevention rather than reaction.
  • Establish a fair and just culture.

The workplace is a collective environment, reflecting everyone in it. How we feel when we show up for work influences the workplace environment.  “The fact is, when people don’t feel good, they simply don’t perform at their best” (Hemp, 2004). Our physical and mental health impacts how we carry out our work and how we interact with our co-workers. This is where our personal health practices can really support us in our resilience and ability to cope with the inevitable stresses and strains at work.

So, as we think about investing the next three weeks to think about workplace wellness, we want to ask you a few questions:

  • Can a workplace be healthy if it does not have a strong safety foundation?
  • What do you think contributes to a healthy workplace?
  • How do you care for yourself so you are the best you can be in your personal life and your work life?

Nahrgang, JD, Hofmann, DA, Morgeson, FP. (2011) Safety at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Link Between Job Demands, Job Resources, Burn-out, Engagement, and Safety Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology Vol  96 (1): 71-94

Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism:  At work – but out of it. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 49-58.

Lowe, G. (2010). Building Healthy and Sustainable Health Care Organizations.  Adapted from Graham Lowe’s book Creating Healthy Organizations: How Vibrant Workplaces Inspire Employees to Achieve Sustainable Success,  published in May 2010 by Rotman/UTP Publishing.

Helen Styles

About Helen Styles

Helen Styles is an Advisor with Workplace Health and Safety, Partnerships in Prevention for Northern Health and Interior Health. She has a keen interest in the linkages between organizational culture and workplace health, safety and wellness. Helen has a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Medicine and worked as a physiotherapist in numerous settings for 16 years before joining Workplace Health and Safety. When not working, Helen enjoys walking Quesnel’s beautiful Riverfront Trail, working out at the gym, swimming, doing volunteer work, and reading.