RIGHT BRAIN / LEFT BRAIN: Of two minds about our national standard for psychologically healthy and safe workplaces

Posted by on Jun 3, 2015 in Articles, Culture Change, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

One of the great challenges for organizations trying to understand what to make of Canada’s relatively new voluntary standards for psychological health and safety is to wrap their minds around where to begin. There is absolutely no question that the emergence of Canada’s new National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the spring of 2013 was a landmark step forward. We can be proud to be citizens of a country in which government, the private sector and the not-for-profit Canadian Standards Association could come together and create such an important new framework aimed at building a safer and healthier society. However, while the architects and supporters of these new national standards have followed up with a series of how-to guides, to anyone on the outside looking in this still seems like a tough and complicated thing to take on. Before I describe what I offer up as the most efficient and effective start point, it is important to discuss the context for how this important new standard has been brought forward. It offers considerable comfort and direction on the administrative and system side of a psychologically healthier workplace because of the framework it was built upon. For those seeking to accelerate the people and culture change side toward a more positive, inspiring, healthier and safer workplace culture, the path is not clear. The new standards have been laid out in a way that makes them easier to integrate into existing OHS ramps or other systems that rely upon documentation of processes. This is particularly useful for large organizations because there’s a well-known framework for implementation. This is very much a left-brain document, organized and designed to complement and build upon existing occupational health and safety regimes that govern workplace practices in many organizations, particularly larger ones.  It contains not only the 13 recommended standards for compliance but also tightly organized information on how to plan, implement and evaluate progress. The reality is that large and well-organized institutions with mature OHS systems will be the first adopters of the new standards because they have the wherewithal to do it. Meanwhile the widespread integration of these voluntary standards across smaller businesses or other organizations unfamiliar with such advanced concepts will take much longer. Thus, while this linear connection with past Occupational Health & Safety policies and procedures is one of its strengths, it also carries with it the inherent limitations of the system we have built over the last 100 years. The limitations are these: systems, policies, rules, regulations, punishment, discipline and dogma do not move people to change to safer, healthier workplace cultures. People do this. I discovered, from the inquest into my son Sean’s death at work, that...

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Up-Stander: Kevin Vickers

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change, Up-Stander, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

This week’s Up-stander at first glance may seem obvious to many people, as millions of Canadians will instantly understand why Kevin Vickers clearly deserves this and a whole lot more recognition for what he did on Wednesday two weeks ago in our nation’s capital. I have more reasons to be grateful for what Kevin did, because of his impact on my daughter Robin, who works with him in the House of Commons. Recently, I was the keynote speaker at the Canada’s Safest Employer Awards celebration in Toronto, less than a week following the events on parliament Hill. The subject of this week’s Up-standers piece, Kevin Vickers, is embodied within the text of the speech I delivered to award winners and attendees that night. ————————————————— “It is my privilege to be with you tonight. We are here to honour great achievements created by inspiring people who have made Canada a better place to live, learn, work and play. It is their core values, your core values that bring us together, at this time, in this place. You – have embraced workplace cultures that are built on civility and respect, and on the physical and psychological protection of the people you work with. You – already understand that a life lost or damaged, or a life saved or healed, isn’t about rules and regulations. It is about people – people committed to breathe life and soul into the values that such rules are based upon. I like the way Dr. Kevin Kelloway of Saint Mary’s university puts it. Kevin says a healthy workplace is one that promotes dignity: both the dignity you and I earn through our work and the innate human dignity within every human being. And he says, dignity comes from respect for ourselves, our respect for others and the perception that others respect us. Workplaces that function in the absence of dignity and respect are far more dangerous places for our families and friends or anyone else to work in. A healthy workplace, a safer workplace, Kevin says, is one that embraces, promotes and nurtures dignity, and with it, respect. I want to tell you two, very personal stories with two very different endings that explain why I personally know this to be so true. The first story is about an unsafe, unhealthy workplace where, in the absence of dignity, respect, civility and physical and psychological protection, everything went wrong. Almost 20 years ago to the day, 19 year-old Sean was on the third day of a new job. He poured thick fluid from a large drum into smaller cans, preparing them for shipment to automobile dealers to undercoat new vehicles. What Sean did not know was that this liquid was...

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Respect Matters

Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Articles, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

    We have reached a pivotal new turning point in the road toward safer healthier workplaces on a much larger scale, when injuries and deaths at work will have, at last, disappeared. The time has come to follow the signs at the crossroads marked “Respect Matters.” We have done many great things already to reduce the personal and public toll of workplace injuries. We train, educate, promote, encourage, meet, network, audit, advocate and much, much more. Thousands have also joined hands to raise the bar in preparing new and young workers for their entry into the world of work. The great news is that hundreds upon hundreds of young people’s lives have been saved because of this work, and thousands upon thousands of others have averted devastating injuries that would have changed their lives forever. But there are caveats. The first caveat is that in areas where more advanced standards of young worker safety have not been embraced, deaths and critical injuries can be up to almost double those of the most progressive regions of the country. These are the places where education systems still resist young worker awareness in schools and where the focus on putting this issue persistently in the public eye has gone missing. New workers and employers are paying the price for this; emotionally, physically and financially. The second caveat is that even in the most progressive areas of the country, hundreds of people are still being injured every day, some of them dying. In other words, we have made plenty of progress but this journey is nowhere near over. This is not just a matter of doing more of the same. It is not about treading water and waiting for the slow ones to catch up. Once again, just as we did when we began to tackle young worker injury with resolve and commitment, it is time to step outside the box. We need to fast-track new goals and new ways to eliminate the rest of the injuries that are literally injuring and killing so many people while sustaining the gains we have already achieved. Of course we must still safety-train, educate, promote, encourage, meet, network, audit, advocate and do all the other good things we do. But the next big leap forward is to get serious about simplifying how we go about building, jump-starting and sustaining workplace environments where Respect Matters. Just as I concluded some years ago that a key factor in turning around young worker injury rates would be to integrate health and safety awareness into core curriculum outcomes in schools, I have reached a similar conviction around integrating the concept “Respect Matters” into Joint Occupational Health and Safety committee...

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People Want to Matter

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change, Workplace Respect | 1 comment

Recently, I worked with nine people from five different organizations, ranging from large to mid-size employers to a small business. We were focused on a second phase of exploration around issues connected to respect in the workplace. Prior to our morning together, each of the participants had prepared in advance for it by taking the 90-minute online program Respect in the Workplace. There were several reasons for doing this, but the most important of all related to a key principle of culture change.  Whenever we seek to move a group toward any action plan or any attempt to generate broad support for change (including workplace culture change) we need to establish a common start point. This is best accomplished by ensuring that everyone is speaking the same language created through one vehicle. In this case, the 90-minute online program established the definitions and illustrations of what constitutes respectful and inappropriate behaviours.  There was no longer any uncertainty about where one person’s teasing ends and another person’s view that they have been bullied begins.  The shared base of understanding was critical to moving forward quickly into understanding what actions needed to be taken toward for change. Let me underline this point with an example that arose during our discussions.  I asked each person in the group to talk about the one idea they thought was most important to them that they were taking away from our discussions. Two of the most senior people in the room called it their aha moment.  They walked away with a profoundly deeper understanding of the more subtle forms of inappropriate behaviour, not just the patently obvious forms of physical or verbal abuse. They realized that the emotional impact or harm from teasing, joking around, embarrassing people in front of others or even just being ignored can be every bit as undermining to a person or a culture as the other stuff! Earlier in the morning I asked what other words or thoughts people associated with the word “respect”.  As an aside, I would recommend this as a very useful discussion to have in any work group.  Within fifteen minutes such a question can deliver great insights about the values and attitudes most people see as important to them in a respectful environment.  But it was the follow-up question later in the meeting that told me something I had not so deeply understood before. I asked everyone in the room to consider what “disrespectful” meant to them. The answers came in different forms – but all connected to one simple principle that was most certainly, at least from this small sample group, fundamental to a respectful organization: people want to know they matter. This surfaced in many...

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Three Part Series on Workplace Bullying

Posted by on Jan 17, 2014 in Articles, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

My series on workplace respect and bullying prevention caught the eye of Ben Snyman, Founder of E-Compliance and sparked an invitation to write a three part series for his company.  These article titles and links are below.  They represent some of the new and critically important ideas that connect workplace respect with underlying causes of physical workplace injuries.  Understanding these concepts can mitigate risks at work, especially to new and young workers.     Workplace Bullying:  Why Should I Care         Workplace Bullying: The Shifting Legal Landscape       Workplace Bullying: Facing Up To...

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Law, Liability and Bullying

Posted by on Oct 19, 2013 in Articles, Workplace Respect | 1 comment

Notice has been served to employers who have yet to deal with the fast-moving change of attitudes and behaviours around bullying in workplaces, schools and other environments. British Columbia has introduced new legislation requiring training of supervisors and employees on bullying and harassment that will go into effect on November 1. It is only a matter of time until the BC model becomes a standard for the rest of Canada since governments elsewhere may ultimately absorb some of the liability risks for themselves should they fail to progress.  In due course, a province or territory that fails to provide an appropriate framework for protecting its citizens against predictable harm may face further consequences. For senior executives, HR management and OHS professionals, this is a call to action. If you operate a workplace of any kind in British Columbia, from law to manufacturing to resource extraction or health care, you really only have until the end of the month to get your company prepared.  There are strong public voices across Canada working to change the status quo and legislators are increasingly aware of how concerned we are as a people. This is a trend, not a fad. Workplace legislation and worker compensation structures are increasingly being modified to allow for claims and to set the stage for more compliance protocols.  And when in doubt, outside the worker compensation framework, employees are suing and winning. The same trend is happening in our education systems.  Lawsuits against schools and officials (or anyone with duty of care responsibilities) are becoming a common track for parents and victims to force change and receive compensation for the harmful impacts of bullying.  New legislation is also being passed to allow for this to occur and out-of-court settlements are a regular occurrence.  In short, bullying prevention is not just a major issue in one area or another, but across our entire culture. Below, I have provided links to cases and events in both Canada and the US that demonstrate in snapshot form the undeniable progression of increased liability faced by employers and school systems. The new BC legislation is far-reaching and goes well beyond the typical compliance requirements of putting bullying information and policy into writing.  What makes it truly unique is that it mandates training as a requirement of every employer, just as it would for some other kind of risk or hazard that requires certification. For any employer (remember – schools are employers too) that wants to get ahead of the curve can begin by not only assessing policy and procedure but also the most cost-effective and impactful organization-wide training solution available. If it can demonstrate that it educated an entire workforce about bullying and...

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