The Psychological Health & Safety Standard: A Canadian First

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard), is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work.

The Standard includes information on:

  • The identification of psychological hazards in the workplace (e.g. stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands);
  • The implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace;
  • The growth of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace;
  • The implementation of systems of measurement and review to ensure sustainability of the overall approach.

The Journey to the Standard

The Standard is the first of its kind in the world, the seeds of which were planted in 2010 when the Mental Health Commission of Canada contracted Dr. Martin Shain (then senior scientist for The Centre For Addiction and Mental Health) to prepare the report “Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm”. The report asserted that there is an emerging legal duty in Canada for employers to provide and maintain a psychologically safe workplace. The report led to the discussion of a sustainable, systematic approach including development of a national standard for managing psychological health and safety in the workplace.

The Standard officially launched in January 2013 as a shared initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) and CSA Group, and funded through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as through a financial contribution from the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and Bell Canada. Since then, there have been more than 30,00 downloads of the Standard internationally and across organizations of all sectors and sizes.

“To create a psychologically safe workplace and a culture that supports this mission requires two-way accountability. Programs alone are not enough. It’s necessary for every employee to learn to take the best care they can of their mental health and total health. At the same time, employers should be removing risk factors that can negatively impact employees’ psychological health.” Bill Howatt, Chief Research and Development Officer of Work Force productivity with Morneau Shepell

Advantages of implementing the Standard

  • the Standard provides a framework to help employers create policies and processes to promote good mental health.
  • the Standard to inform the development of training programs;
  • as employers are increasingly held legally responsible for psychological health and safety issues it is in employers’ best interest to act in a manner that prevents the risk of legal consequences.;
  • the Standard helps ensure that that an organization is effective in managing human resources;
  • the Standard helps employers ensure their organization is effective in maximizing employee potential and productivity;
  • a supportive work environment can reduce the onset, severity, impact and duration of a mental health disorder;
  • organizations that make the effort to identify psychosocial risks and to create a psychologically healthy workplace reap benefits in reduced absenteeism, higher levels of employee engagement, lower rates of error and physical injuries, and greater potential for becoming an “employer of choice.”

What are the advantages of implementing the Standard?

The advantages for employees are the protection from psychological harm and the promotion of psychological well-being. For employers, potential advantages include enhanced competitive advantage and organizational effectiveness resulting from:

  • reduced absenteeism
  • higher levels of employee engagement
  • creativity and innovation
  • lower rates of error and physical injuries
  • greater potential for becoming an “employer of choice”
  • and reduced risk of legal issues related to psychological harm to employees.

How does an organization create a psychologically safe workplace?

A good place to begin is to conduct a baseline audit using The Rapid Psychological health and Safety Gap Analysis can help decision makers get their bearings about where to start and the next steps needed to create a psychologically safe workplace. Another audit is the Howatt HR 13 PHS Factors Tool.

For practical advice implementing the Standard employers turn to the free e-course “Assembling the Pieces Toolkit”, available from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHC).

What does the future hold for the Standard?

There is little doubt going forward that the approach of working together to improve psychological health and safety will continue. Research and collaboration will also continue and what is learned will be turned into practical workplace strategies.

  • employers will be increasingly proactive at preventing, identifying, and providing support for mental health issues;
  • there will be a widened use the Standard among industry and labour;
  • employees will expect to work in psychologically safe workplaces;
  • recruiting, hiring, and promoting leaders could be tied in part to their ability to support psychologically safe environments;
  • measurement of leadership success may include the impact the leader has on the psychological safety of the workplace;
  • the concept of psychological health and safety will be embedded as part of the overall orientation or safety training or an organization;
  • physical and psychological health and safety will be combined into a single organizational approach;
  • systems, standards, and regulations pertaining to psychological health and safety will evolve;

Be proud, Canada!

Countries around the world are looking to Canada for information to support their own efforts in this area. We can be proud.


  1. The Standard.

2. Tracking The Perfect Legal Storm (2010).

3. The Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis. This 29-item assessment a fast and efficient way to get a stronger reading on your current psychological safety programming and helps decision-makers get their bearings about where to start and the next steps needed to create a psychologically safe workplace.

Link here:

4. Howatt HR 13 PHS factors tool.

5. Assembling the Pieces Toolkit (e-course). Free download from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.