Is your team equipped to spot psychological hazards in the workplace? Identifying them is one thing, but do they also know how to report them?

Today, we’re going to discuss not only how to identify psychological hazards in the workplace, but getting the right systems and processes in place to report them.

With the implementation of Alberta’s Bill 30, we have been focusing on helping ensure you and your organization are in compliance and equipped to create and maintain a workplace free of bullying and harassment.

First, we provided a checklist to guide your efforts. Then we looked at three ways you can proactively create a psychologically safe workplace: Creating policies, ensuring awareness, and training for competence. In this article, our fifth in a series of eight, we are going to switch to helping you prepare to appropriately react if a workplace psychological hazard is identified or an incident occurs.

It is critical that you have tools and processes in place to (1) identify and report psychological hazards as well as (2) to report incidents of harassment and other forms of psychological violence.

Identifying Hazards in the Workplace

A first step you will want to undertake is to update workplace hazard assessment policies and processes to include the need to identify potential psychological hazards. Identifying psychological hazards, those that allow bullying, harassment and other forms of psychological violence to occur, will call for different processes than those used to identify physical safety hazards. Consider the following options for inclusion in your psychological hazard assessment program:

  • Culture assessments and surveys.
  • Determining if employees are aware of policies and reporting processes.
  • Questions relating to bullying and harassment on annual or spot engagement surveys.
  • Questions on exit and stay interviews.
  • Review of 270 degree and 360 degree assessment comments.
  • Anonymous reporting mechanisms.
  • Investigation into areas of high turnover and high illness rates.
  • Watch for conditions and attitudes that allow harassment to occur (Read this blog for more information on this area).
  • Train HR and leaders to be able to identify subtle signs of bullying (Check out this post for tips on how to do this).

Different processes for physical vs. psychological hazards in the workplace

While your methods for assessing psychological hazards will be different than assessing physical safety hazards, we recommend you link the processes in some way. Then, all hazards identified in the workplace are recorded, tracked, and dealt with in one place. This likely needs integration between safety and human resources departments, along with clearly identified roles and responsibilities for each group.

Reporting Hazards

Once you have programs and processes in place to identify psychological safety hazards you will need to put in place a mechanism to report any hazards identified as well as any incidents that occur. This is due to unique factors that differentiate psychological safety from physical safety such as, but not limited to:

  • Confidentiality needed for mental health issues
  • The stigma associated with reporting mental health issues
  • Concerns with retaliation and retribution for reporting bullying or harassment – particularly if leaders are involved
  • The potential of imbalance of power in harassment, bullying, and sexual harassment situations
  • Personal privacy issues such as those associated with sexual harassment or sexual assault
  • Potential damage to personal reputations if the claims are false and not kept confidential

For these reasons, we recommend the human resources department is responsible for owning and responding to reports of these types of hazards and incidents. As with the hazard identification process, collaboration between safety and human resources are necessary for accurate and fulsome reporting on all types of workplace hazards and incidents.

Creating reporting processes for hazards in the workplace

Some things to consider when building your reporting process are:

  • Make sure they’re easy to read. Some employees will be in a state of heightened emotion when reading them. They should be easy to find and have clearly defined steps and accountabilities.
  • The reporting process should protect the dignity and privacy of the complainant. It should also protect the respondent. Remember, at the time of reporting, the validity of the claim will not be known.
  • Have a plan in place for how you will deal with claims that name an individual as a psychological hazard. This should include gathering more information and conducting an investigation.
  • The reporting process should include an immediate offer of assistance to the employees’ employee(s) involved. Examples are referral to an EFAP or removal from the situation.
  • Be aware of legislated reporting requirements. Now that it’s part of OHS legislation, psychological injuries resulting in a worker being admitted to the hospital must be reported through proper safety channels. In some cases, the police may also need to be contacted. As a result, you should have clear internal guidelines on reporting requirements.

Keep your goals in mind

The goal of your hazard identification and reporting policies, processes, and tools is to enable you to identify and address current issues as well as to prevent future instances.

Good assessment and reporting processes are a key step in creating a positive, safe, and respectful workplace.

Don’t miss the next article in this series on making sure your HR policies and procedures are up to par.

To read the eight-part series from the start click here to go to the first article on Bill 30 and get our checklist. The previous article in the series, which covers how to train to ensure your employees are competent, can be accessed here. The next article, which covers effectively investigating incidents can be found here.

Activate HR has many years of experience with helping organizations create respectful workplace policies, programs, and cultures. We also investigate workplace incidents such as bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment. Contact us today at info@activatehr.ca for help with your bullying and harassment policy, leader and employee training, and investigation needs.

Did you learn a lot from this post on hazards in the workplace? Here are three more to check out:

What is in Your Respectful Workplace Policy?
Effective Communication Techniques to Bring Your Workplace Harassment Policy to Life
Effectively Investigating Workplace Bullying and Harassment Hazards and Incidents

This article was originally published in 2018, but has been updated in 2020 just for you!

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