Dear Sisters and Brothers:
I am pleased to announce that OPSEU, in collaboration with many other unions and worker organizations including Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) and the Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC), has produced a resource toolkit, "Action on workplace stress: Mental injury prevention tools for Ontario workers" to assist workers to identify, prevent and control workplace factors that can cause or aggravate mental distress and stress-related illness.
Work-related stress is on the rise as our workplaces experience increasing demands and reduced resources. The medical evidence is clear – chronic stress gives rise to many forms of mental distress and physical illness. Many employers, if they consider this issue at all, characterize this as a problem with the worker. Many employers provide access to Employee Assistance Programs so that workers may get help in coping with "their" stress. Then, on the way out of the office, with the EAP card tucked in their pockets, workers are asked to take on an additional workload.
While providing supports like EAP to workers is extremely important, what employers are not doing is addressing causes of workplace stress. Psychosocial hazards in the workplace such as bullying and harassment, threats of violence, unreasonable demands, lack of support, lack of trust/justice and respect, poor work/life balance, and poor work organization often go unaddressed. Psychosocial hazards are occupational health and safety issues. Like other occupational hazards they must be identified, assessed, controlled, and prevented. Workers who are hurt by these hazards deserve to be compensated. They are no less deserving of benefits than workers injured or made ill by other workplace hazards.
Other countries have recognized this and have specific regulations that require employers to assess and control these hazards. Canada is poised to introduce a voluntary standard for employers to provide psychologically safe workplaces. It is time to focus on diagnosing and treating the workplace – not workers. It is time for Ontario to catch up and protect workers from these hazards.
The resource kit will provide basic information about stress terminology, approaches to stress, Ontario’s legal framework, and activities around the world and in Canada. A workplace action plan guide provides specific information and ideas for workers to use in their workplaces to raise awareness of these hazards and use their union and health and safety committee frameworks to act for safer and healthier workplaces. The resource kit is available online at http://www.ohcow.on.ca/MIT.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President.