A safe workplace requires a team approach

One group alone can’t ensure a workplace is psychologically safe.

To achieve psychological safety in any organization requires the joint effort of the human resources (HR) team, the occupational health and safety (OHS) team and the senior leadership team. These teams working together support operations and all employees. Integration of the support offered by HR and OHS is required by operations for success in achieving a psychologically safe workplace. Let’s look at the reasons behind this.

Awareness

Employees that serve the operations group understand the role of the HR team as being specialists who are responsible for recruiting, screening, interviewing and placing workers. The HR team also handles employee relations, wellness, wages and benefits, rewards and recognition, and some aspects of employee development and training.

The OHS team provides the technical support to the employee group as they work towards efficient and safe production of goods and services. The OHS team also supports operations in assessing workplace hazards and implementing safe job procedures and processes. Integrating the support provided by the HR and OHS groups is one of the keys to seamlessly achieving a psychologically safe workplace. To achieve a psychologically safe workplace as defined by the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard), it’s suggested that HR and OHS work collaboratively.

In fact, the Standard’s 13 psychological health and safety factors cover areas that fall under both HR and OHS. The organizational culture evolution is an outcome of the way employees are brought into the organization and the work processes used to allow for safe production.

The organizational culture and the people who contribute to it are integral in providing the social support necessary if employees are to feel psychologically safe. Civility and respect are hallmarks of human resource programming. Clear lines of communication, employee engagement, and defined opportunities for growth and development are part of employees’ participation in the HR management system.

Safety leadership is paramount, and employee involvement in completing workplace inspections, hazard assessments, incident investigations and related involvement in physical safety at work creates an obvious and automatic linkage to the OHS management system. If a psychologically safe workplace is to be provided to all employees, integration of the HR and OHS management systems is necessary, with the support of senior leaders.

Proper job design requires consideration of workload management. This includes considering both the physical and psychological demands put on employees. Ensuring employees can keep the “eyes on task and minds on task” is a key safety management system objective. Rewards and recognition of following the safe work system are part of OHS programming.

Safety leaders have argued for years that the safe system of work will be consistently followed only when employees have an opportunity to be part of the job and task design and have a feeling of involvement. Success in this regard is increased when employees get involved in workplace inspections, hazard assessment, incident investigation and other safety management system elements. Workload and work-life balance are objectives sought in programming of both HR and OHS groups.

When HR and OHS management systems are working together, they can provide a workplace that offers psychological protection.

Accountability

Workplace psychological safety can only be achieved with full involvement of all employees. Senior management owns the outcomes, but leaders in the human resources and occupational health and safety departments need to see the linkages and make an effort to integrate and improve cross-departmental communication. If the Standard is to be implemented effectively, there needs to be recognition of the need for increased cooperation between HR and OHS.

Action

A company’s OHR group needs to get more involved with the HR group. Workplace incidents need to be investigated to assess the extent to which causes may have included psychological as well as physical hazards. Both HR and OHS need to be involved. Job design has a big impact on physical safety and psychological safety. Fatigue, stress and mental readiness for work show up as major risk factors. The call to action is for the OHS and HR groups to de-silo and work together to create a physically and psychologically safe place of work.

Use of the Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis is can be helpful for HR and OHS leaders to obtain a quick baseline for your organization’s psychological safety practices. The results from this rapid analysis allow you to determine strengths and gaps with respect to your organization’s integration of HR and OHS management systems.

Ready this article on The Globe & Mail website