Psychological Health

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Psychological health is described by the World Health Organization as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. The Public Health Agency of Canada adds that psychological health relates to the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections, and personal dignity.

Psychological health issues occur on a spectrum, from common difficulties such as fatigue or sadness to severe psychological disorders. Attending to psychological health at work includes being aware of, and taking steps to prevent harm or illness to, the aspects of one’s mental health that are within the influence and responsibility of the workplace.

Employer duties

The Prince Edward Island Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act exists to help protect workers and self-employed persons from risks to their physical safety or psychological well-being that arise out of, or in connection with, activities in their workplaces.

Employers are responsible for taking all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers and others who may be at or near their workplace.

A psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that promotes workers' mental well-being and does not harm a worker’s mental health through negligent, reckless, or intentional ways. For example, a psychologically safe workplace would be free of excessive fear or chronic anxiety. Factors that can affect workers' mental and physical health include demoralization, anxiety, burnout, etc. These factors increase the likelihood that an individual will experience increased stress, which in turn increases the likelihood of developing a more serious mental illness.

Psychological health problems can range widely, from mild psychological difficulties such as low mood, sleep difficulties, or excessive worry to severe psychological disorders such as severe depression. A supportive work environment can help reduce the onset, severity, impact, and duration of psychological health issues.

Please see the topics on workplace harassment and violence, as many factors that affect psychological health may be related to these issues.

Factors Relating to Psychological Health

Creating and sustaining a psychologically supportive workplace is of tremendous benefit to those who work there, but also to the organization itself. Workers who feel they have psychological support in the workplace are more likely to have greater job attachment, job commitment, job satisfaction, job involvement, positive work moods, desire to remain with the organization, organizational citizenship behaviours (behaviours of personal choice that benefit the organization), and job performance.

Thirteen psychological factors have been identified as contributing to a psychologically healthy workplace. As an example, two of the factors are:

  • Clear Leadership and Expectations – effective leadership and support helps workers know what they need to do, how their work contributes to the organization, and if there are any changes.
  • Civility and Respect – all workers are respectful and considerate in their actions with each other, as well as with customers, clients, and the public.

All thirteen factors are outlined in the CSA Z1003-13 (R2018) "Psychological health and safety in the workplace - Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation” which is available to view for free from the CSA Group website (registration required).

Being Proactive

There are many ways that psychological health and safety can be addressed and supported.

For example, when the employer or Joint Occupational Safety and Health (JOSH) Committee is conducting inspections, they can listen to comments made by co-workers, and note any concerns or complaints that they hear. If areas of concern emerge, these items should be reported to the supervisor or designated person. Areas of concern may include pace of work (over and under worked), fatigue, conflicting demands, conflicts with others, working in social isolation, and poor communication.

Note that it is not the employer’s or committee member's duty to make a diagnosis about a person's state of health or mental health. An employer’s duty to protect a worker’s health and safety lies primarily in assessing the workplace for the presence of all thirteen of the factors that contribute to good psychological health, and taking action to address and resolve areas of concern.

One way to achieve a psychologically safe workplace is to create and implement a program that includes physical health and safety as well as psychological health. This program, developed by the employer in consultation with workers, should include a written commitment to and related policies around psychological health, a tool to assess the ongoing psychological health of the workplace, and strategies developed to address areas of concern. The goal is to continually improve or maintain the quality of working life, health, and the well-being of workers.

IMPORTANT! If you, or someone you know, are in need of mental health services, Health PEI lists many support services that are available in Prince Edward Island.

In general terms, “reasonable precautions” refers to the care, caution, or action a reasonable person is expected to take under similar circumstances.

R.S.P.E.I. 1988, c. O-1.01

Section 2 Purpose of Act

2. The purpose of this Act is to secure workers and self-employed persons from risks to their safety, health and physical or psychological well-being arising out of, or in connection with, activities in their workplaces.

[S.P.E.I. 2018, c. 45, s. 1]

Section 12 Duties of employers

12. (1) An employer shall ensure

(a) that every reasonable precaution is taken to protect the occupational health and safety of persons at or near the workplace;

(b) that any item, device, material, equipment or machinery provided for the use of workers at a workplace is properly maintained, and is properly equipped with the safety features or devices, as recommended by the manufacturer or required by the regulations;

(c) that such information, instruction, training, supervision and facilities are provided as are necessary to ensure the occupational health and safety of the workers;

(d) that workers and supervisors are familiar with occupational health or safety hazards at the workplace;

(e) that workers are made familiar with the proper use of all safety features or devices, equipment and clothing required for their protection; and

(f) that the employer's undertaking is conducted so that workers are not exposed to occupational health or safety hazards as a result of the undertaking.

(2) An employer shall

(a) consult and cooperate with the joint occupational health and safety committee or the representative, as applicable;

(b) cooperate with any person performing a duty or exercising a power conferred by this Act or the regulations;

(c) provide such additional training of committee members as may be prescribed by the regulations;

(d) comply with this Act and the regulations and ensure that workers at the workplace comply with this Act and the regulations; and

(e) where an occupational health and safety policy or occupational health and safety program is required under this Act, establish the policy or program.

(3) An employer shall establish and implement as a policy, in accordance with the regulations, measures to prevent and investigate occurrences of harassment in the workplace.

[S.P.E.I. 2018, c. 45, s. 3]