Discovering the human factor: Addressing psychological health and safety in mining
When thinking about the mining and metals sector, psychological health and safety seldom makes the headlines. Just as there are physical considerations to keep in mind when thinking about employee safety, mental health is equally as important.
According to a new study by the Workforce Institute at Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), “for almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor– and it is equal to the impact of their partner.” The mining and metals sector is essential in our current world. With the introduction of ISO 45003:2021 and the WHO’s Global Mental Health at Work Framework, psychological health and safety has become a global priority. Countries have been establishing regulatory requirements to incorporate psychological health and safety in the workplace over the past decade, in response to the increased strain declining worker mental health is placing on organizations and their communities.
In the mining and metals sector, organizations such as the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) are introducing psychological health and safety to their standards to not only drive meaningful change but to provide guidance and support to organizations as well. Here are some leading considerations when thinking about psychological health and safety.
How do we integrate Psychological Health and Safety into the business?
Psychosocial risk factors are defined as “work conditions that that can have either a positive or negative effect on employee psychological health and safety”. Psychological health and safety is more than just the mental health of workers. It is composed of several psychosocial risk factors and how they interact with the people, systems, and environment within an organization. It is imperative that we understand the impact of our systems and work environment on workers’ psychological health and safety and that we integrate the management of psychological health and safety into all aspects of the employee experience.
One way for an organization to gain a better understanding of their current state when it comes to managing psychological health and safety is to assess the level of readiness to adopt psychological health and safety systems. Reviewing current systems can help shed light on the processes already in place that promote and protect psychological health and safety and where opportunities to improve may exist. Additionally, this process can help to identify what risk factors or hazards may require intervention or are adequately managed within the organization.
The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace outlines a few guiding principles, including:
> Responsibility is necessarily shared by management, employees, and union;
> Mutually respectful relationships are foundational and need to be defined; and
> Everyone has a responsibility to do no harm to the psychological safety of others.
When managing psychological health and safety it is important to remember that the responsibility of establishing and maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe work environment is a collective effort where all individuals within the organization play a part.
How can work be a protective factor?
The workplace can become a protective factor when organizations consider upstream strategies including proactive and preventative solutions that optimize employee focus and energy to work successfully and safely. Examples of upstream strategies for the mining sector include:
> Enhancing belonging, such as establishing peer mentoring or buddy systems, especially on remote sites
> Supporting work-life balance, by providing safe and private spaces for remote workers to connect with their social, emotional, and health supports
> Building resilience, by providing continual opportunities for workers to share and learn about coping strategies to deal with stressors and challenges
> Encouraging seeking help, by having leaders normalize and model the behaviour by openly sharing their experiences in accessing help and resources
> Encouraging conversations about well-being, by making it safe to speak up about concerns without fear of reprisal and making it a part of everyday debriefs and team huddles
> Making the workplace accessible and inclusive, by providing secure, accessible, and safe facilities for all employees to access assistance where needed
By implementing upstream strategies, employers can benefit from improved recruitment and job retention, improved employee engagement, improved sustainability and resilience, and improved health and safety. Additionally, a supportive workplace can reduce the onset, severity, impact, and duration of a mental health disorder .
To effectively implement this approach within your organization, several key steps need to be taken. Firstly, it is crucial to understand the current state of your organization in terms of psychological health and safety. Once that is established, the next step is to integrate psychological health and safety into the everyday routines and operations of the organization. Additionally, it is important to prioritize continual improvement rather than relying on one-and-done strategies. Lastly, ensure that everyone within the organization is accountable for their impact on the psychological health and safety of others by promoting awareness, providing training and resources, and encouraging a culture of respect and empathy. By following these steps, your organization can create a conducive environment that prioritizes and safeguards the psychological well-being of its members.
Rana Labban is an associate partner and leads environment, health and safety for EY Canada’s climate change and sustainability services.