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Morneau Shepell is hosting a free webinar on Thurs. Sept. 13 from 1 p.m. ET to 2 p.m. ET to discuss seven ways to improve mental health in your workplace. If you would like to participate, click here to register.

You are invited to participate in our study to evaluate how prepared the average employee, HR leader, OHS professional, manager and senior leader believes their organization is to create a psychologically safe workplace. We ask you to take a few minutes to complete the short Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis. Over the next several weeks we will be collecting data and reporting our findings so that you can benchmark where you are against your peers.

Where did the term psychological safety come from?

Psychological safety is still a relatively new term that continues to be at the forefront of the watercooler talk of human resources (HR) and occupational health and safety (OHS) leaders. It is also becoming a growing topic of concern for senior executives in corporate Canada.

Psychological safety impacts employee decision-making and their capacity to process information. When employees' psychological safety is being negatively impacted by the workplace environment (such as when an employee is being bullied), this stress can increase their risk for workplace errors that can lead to serious incidents. One major benefit of psychological safety is that it frees employees' mental capacity to focus on achieving the organization’s goals rather than on self-protection. This increases the probability that work will be completed safely and properly, and employees will have the opportunity to flourish.

The article explores how organizations can put in place the controls to create a psychological safe workplace.


Today many organizations are not quite sure how to manage psychological safety or where it fits on the management system continuum. Every organization has a series of management systems working and hopefully they all do so in harmony. The management systems include the framework of any collection of inter-related policies, processes and procedures used to ensure it achieves its intended outcomes. Typically, organizations have a financial management system, an environmental management system, a human resources management system, and an occupational health and safety management system.

As legislation like Bill C-30 in Alberta and Bill C-168 in Ontario come in, they drive the need for organizations within these provinces to figure out who is best equipped to lead psychological safety within the organization. Is it a human resources issue or is it an occupational health and safety issue?

The answer is both. When it comes to managing employees’ psychological safety the bigger question is: Should the management of psychological safety be part of the occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) or the human resources management system (HRMS)?

It could fit with both but it might best be integrated into the OHSMS and here is why.

For a workplace to be truly psychologically safe it requires proper control of workplace hazards. It also means that work methods, processes and procedures are established so that employees feel confident that they can work without risk or injury.

A psychologically safe workplace results in engaged employees working together in a trusting and productive environment. Workplace psychological safety is when workers feel comfortable asking questions or seeking feedback from their colleagues and managers. Employees need to be comfortable reporting errors and problems, or suggesting new and better ways for tackling tasks without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job, or their career.


An OHSMS is a system put in place to provide for worker safety with the goal being safe production. The benefit of this kind of system is it puts in place the accountability, discipline and controls to both manage and improve psychological safety. An OHSMS would typically include policy and processes to assess workplace hazards. It would also outline safe work practices, procedures and competency requirements. A key aspect of an OHSMS is management review, measurement and audit. When all the elements are in place, an OHSMS has it mechanisms embedded in it to ensure a psychologically safe workplace.

For organizations that are looking to adopt or adapt The Standard (the National Standard of Canada for Pyschological Health and Safety in the Workplace), we recommended that OHS and HR work together and consider integrating The Standard within the existing OHS management system.


HR professionals not familiar with OHS management systems should find out more about them so they can be more open when making decisions regarding implementing psychological safety measures.

· Safety intersects every employee’s work experience starting with the new hire orientation, daily field level hazard assessments, annual task hazard assessment review, process and procedure training and re-certification, workplace inspections, incident investigation, and emergency response planning and exercises.

· OHSMS also have the distinct benefit of having specific and ongoing methods of measuring progress and auditing program success and implementation, ensuring management review and allowing for continuous improvement.

· If the goal of establishing an OHSMS is safe production and a natural by-product is a system that actively promotes employee well-being while taking all reasonable steps to minimize threats to workers’ mental health. With that in mind, it would seem logical that when it comes to managing employees’ psychological safety that occupational health and safety is its natural home base.

· Complete the Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis to evaluate your organization’s psychological safety practices and maturity.

Glyn Jones is a Professional Engineer, a consulting occupational health and safety professional, and a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find all the stories in this series at