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O H & S | Roadbuilding

December 11, 2013

Mental heath and workplace psychology must be addressed

Legislative changes are keeping pace with changing attitudes towards safety in the B.C. construction industry, according to one expert.

Jeff Lyth, the regional safety advisor for the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance, was the final speaker at the Bridging the Gap construction Safety conference held recently in Richmond, B.C.

In Canada, Lyth said, mental health is the leading cause of both long-term and short-term disability.

However, many workers don’t even report their mental illness because of perceived stigma.

Psychology on the construction site is of concern to veterans, Lyth said, because they know they have bullies, but say they produce results.’”

“It’s a short-term industry, and it’s about ‘get ‘er done’”, he said, and added it is now necessary to expand that thinking.

Construction sites are practical, efficient places, but now “how it feels” to be there can be discussed, Lyth said.

This previously wasn’t the case.

Safety being treated as a separate silo is probably also not effective going forward, Lyth added.

“A new non-physical spectrum of health and harm is now part of the equation,” he explained.

Bill 14, introduced in July 2012 by the British Columbia government and implemented in November, includes workplace bullying in the Workers Compensation Act.

“It’s the first step in an important movement to include mental disorders,” Lyth said.

He said other measures are also in place to improve mental health in the workplace.

The CSA Z1003: Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace document exists to prevent psychological harm from conditions in the workplace and promote psychological health in the workplace through support, he said.

The document helps companies create a psychological health and safety management system through commitment, planning, implementation, evaluation, and management review, he said.

“The document is scalable to large and small organizations and is a phased implementation,” Lyth added.

After the introduction of Bill 14, Lyth said, the way to ensure safety is to look at stress and psychosocial skills, study leadership skills, work on corporate culture, and emphasize positive psychology.

Psychosocial risk factors include psychological support, organizational culture, clear leadership and expectations, civility and respect, psychological job fit, growth and development, recognition and reward, involvement and influence, workload management, engagement, balance, psychological protection, and protection of physical safety.

Lyth also pointed out that as the construction workforce ages and retires, attitudes will shift.

“Our understanding of effective leadership is based on older generational models, and those models will become even less effective as time goes on,” he said.

“Command and Control is giving way to Supporting and Committed.”

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