Physical & Psychological Safety at Work

Shawnee Love   •  
August 18, 2017

Ensuring your workplace is safe ought to be a no-brainer.  It’s the law and the right thing to do.  No one wants to be the boss telling a family why their mom or dad won’t be coming home anymore.

Keeping the workplace and work as physically safe as you possibly can is a fundamental responsibility of employers. However, many employers don’t realize that keeping the workplace and work psychologically safe is also their responsibility.

Physical safety means controlling risks and hazards to protect workers from physical harm.  In practice that means having:

  • Safety programs and policies including health and safety committees, regular audits, first aid equipment and stations, etc.
  • Equipment and training such as first aid equipment and stations, health and safety orientations, ongoing training in safe working such as how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how to minimize exposure to dangers,
  • Effective safety responses including accident investigation protocols and trained investigators as well as timely support.

Psychological safety also means controlling risks and hazards to protect workers but this time it is protection from psychological harm.  In practice, psychological safety at work means ensuring:

  • Your work culture (i.e., norms, values, ethics, and practices) promotes and fosters inclusivity, fairness, respect, civility, kindness, etc.  For example:
    • Difficult situations (conflicts, grief, failure, etc.) are addressed in a timely fashion with compassion as well as confidentiality and safety in mind.
    • Incentives and rewards encourage positive, supportive behaviours and alignment with the values noted above.Employee Benefits placard
    • Disrespect isn’t tolerated in any form and all staff are empowered to speak up if they observe disrespect.
  • Training in respectful workplaces and how to put a stop to bullying, harassment, discrimination, and unhealthy conflicts as well as how to recognize the signs of psychological stressors.
  • Ongoing communication regarding the resources and supports available to enhance psychological safety at work (and at home) as well as the expectations around being a psychologically safe workplace,
  • The existence of formal programs to support psychological safety such as an employee family assistance plan, mandatory time off or rest periods, open two way communication, social and community building activities and events, etc.

This blog is actually the final part in our series on creating mentally healthy workplaces but maybe it should have been the first, because safety is one of the most basic human needs.  Clearly some jobs are inherently more physically or psychologically dangerous than others.  Known risks can and usually are addressed such that people going into those careers or industries are aware and well trained in how to be as safe as possible.

It is the physical and psychological dangers that aren’t inherent in the work but rather come about because of dysfunction, lack of training, and poor practices and occasionally even bad intentions that I want this blog to inspire you to address.   It is our responsibility to ensure our employees feel wholly safe at work.  The good news is, if we do ensure their physical and psychological safety, we are paving the way to engagement, productivity, resilience and general happiness.  In short, a mentally well workplace.

We hope you enjoyed this series, but whether you did or didn’t, please comment and share your thoughts on this topic.