By Terri Aversa, Health and Safety Officer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)
Sometimes the best way to define a toxic workplace is to define what’s not. A “careful” workplace is not a toxic workplace. A “careful” workplace is what psychologist and criminologist Dr. Martin Shain describes in his 2016 book as “making every reasonable effort to be aware of how our conduct affects others and to gain a basic understanding of their rights, needs, and interests. Carefulness reflects an attitude of vigilance and a desire to be aware of the consequences of our acts and omissions in order to avoid reasonably foreseeable harm to others within our circle of influence.”
In 2010, Shain’s groundbreaking report, “The Perfect Legal Storm” argues that the damages being paid out by employers to victims in at least seven areas of tribunal law cases carves out employer responsibility to create psychologically safe workplaces for their employees. According to Shain, case law enshrines an employer’s duty of care to prevent, where they can, psychological harm to employees.
Shain’s work led to the creation of and 2013 launch of the Canadian Standard CSA Z1003, “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.” At the time, Shain was optimistic that the Standard would permeate through Canada’s workplaces. It would make workplaces more humane, and the good effects on employee health and morale would spill over to society at large to lessen the burden on the health care system and societal machinery. Shain argues that the Standard outlines how employers could create and sustain careful workplaces that would satisfy their duties to prevent negligent psychological harm.
Shain’s hopes for workplace permeation were dashed. The moment the Standard was released, employer law firms rushed to write articles reassuring their employer clientele that the Standard was voluntary, and that employers did not have to follow it. Good employers will already be following it, because the Standard does no more than provide a roadmap for employers to create responsive and supportive organizations. Many organizations who operate in a responsive and supportive way are already doing what the Standard advises. These are “careful” workplaces as Shain coins the term in his book “The Careful Workplace.”
Shain now says that the Standard went in the wrong door. It went in the “HR door” when it should have gone in the “Health and safety door.” He also argues that it must be made compulsory if we are to realize the societal impacts he was hoping for. Shain’s advice is clear; we need to pursue careful workplaces through using our health and safety rights…. [ read full article here ]
- Shain, Martin. 2016. The Careful Workplace: Seeking Psychological Safety at Work in the Era of Canada’s National Standard. Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. Toronto.
(Originally published in February 2017, this article has been reprinted in Injuredworkersonline.org by permission of the author. The need for psychologically safe and “careful” workplaces was highlighted once again with media reports this past week of the Prince Edward Island Workers’ Compensation Board decision linking workplace bullying to the death by heart attack of residential services worker Eric Donovan. Following a back injury on the job, the worker again faced harassment in a stressful and toxic environment upon return to work – an unfortunately all too common situation).