We are hearing more and more about mental health in all aspects of daily life these days, and while this new openness about a once taboo subject is to be welcomed it can still cause squeamishness for employers and concerns about intrusion and privacy that a cut or a burn may not. Even so, it is an important enough risk factor for workplace injuries and vessel & yard accidents that it behooves all of us to pay attention to it.
First, the why. Mental health is a workplace safety issue because if issues aren’t recognized or challenges aren’t addressed, it can lead to a number of negative consequences. Mental health problems can impair an employee’s ability to focus, concentrate and make sound decisions. This can lead to terrible outcomes, both for the employee and for others. Mental health problems can result in an increase in injuries and accidents, decreased productivity, absenteeism and turnover. This can cost employers a significant amount of money. In addition, mental health problems can lead to decreased morale and increased stress levels. This can create a negative work environment, which is not conducive to safety. All of these are drivers of stress on people and systems, and in turn these increase a company’s risk exposure.
There are several things employers can do to address mental health in the workplace. By taking the following steps, employers can help to create a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.
- Provide proactive mental health awareness training to employees. This training can help employees understand mental health issues and how to identify and support someone who may be struggling. Your workers comp/P&I insurer will likely have resources they can refer you to, as will occupational health clinics and local health care providers.
- Create a culture of open communication about mental health. This means encouraging employees to talk about their mental health and to seek help if they need it. The military are real leaders in this area and offer proven, concrete examples of functioning programs for populations where talking about feelings and mental health may not be a default setting.
- Offer mental health resources to employees. This could include providing access to mental health professionals, offering on-site counseling or providing financial assistance for mental health treatment.
- Promote healthy work-life balance. This means encouraging employees to take breaks, to get enough sleep and to have a life outside of work. Remind your people that toughness is not always analogous to pushing yourself to a breaking point.
- Address workplace stressors. This could include identifying and reducing sources of stress, such as unrealistic deadlines, heavy workloads or bullying.
By taking these steps, employers can reduce the risk of mental health issues driving injuries and accidents, improve quality of life for their people, reduce insurance claims and help to create a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.