Honouring Canada’s Day of Mourning for Lost and Injured Workers
"We remember those who died, or were injured or made ill, from their work. We commit to protecting workers and preventing further workplace tragedies.”
This week’s topic is a somber but important one. This Tuesday, April 28th is Canada’s National Day of Mourning, dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives or sustained injuries in their workplaces. Nineteen years ago, parliament passed the Workers Mourning Day Act which officially marked this day "to remember those lost and injured workers and to strengthen the resolve to establish safe and healthy conditions in the workplace, and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths” (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety). This date carries extra meaning this year as we express our gratitude for health care and essential service workers across the country who are risking their health and safety each day to serve their communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend’s heartbreaking tragedy in Nova Scotia is a stark reminder of the very real and constant risk our first responders take on to protect us. One meaningful way we can thank the individuals who put their own health, safety and even lives at risk to do their jobs is to take real action on reducing risks and hazards whenever, wherever and however possible.
With health and safety at the very forefront of the minds of Canadians right now for a multitude of reasons, we need to remember that mental health is just as real as physical health. While traditional workplace health and safety policies and practices have focused on the physical aspects, psychological injury can be equally serious and can indeed even result in death. Just as chronic physical health issues can be fatal in the most serious circumstances – such as the potential for chronic high blood pressure to result in death by heart attack – mental illness, at its most severe, can prompt suicidal thoughts and actions.
Most Canadians spend more waking time at work than anywhere else. This means that for better or worse, things like the organizational culture at work, the sense of satisfaction (or lack thereof) from our job roles and our interactions with co-workers will almost surely have some kind of impact on our mental wellbeing. In most provinces legislation around harassment and bullying in the workplaces is tightening up in effort to eliminate the risk of this specific type of psychological injury in our workers. This is certainly a positive development, but the factors that can contribute to poor mental health are countless and go far beyond those few specific issues. If a member of your team is struggling with a mental health problem, no matter the circumstances, the workplace is well positioned to help. Even small organizations whose structures don’t support access to an EFAP or insurance benefits that extend to specialized mental health care services, those in leadership positions should be equipped to recognize and appropriately address signs of mental distress.
The psychological toll of working in a hazardous environment – whether it’s risks posed to our physical health, mental health, or both – should not be underestimated. To add another layer, stress kicks our central nervous system into overdrive which makes physical workplace accidents statistically more likely. With varied effects that can include jitters/tremors, muscle tension and weakness, blurred vision, headaches, hypertension, gastrointestinal issues, breathing difficulties and “brain fog” causing impairment of judgment and decision making faculties, it’s not hard to imagine the risks that working in a state of high stress might present.
If you’ve worked with me, you know that one of my favourite ways to look at mental health issues in the workplace is to employ analogies to physical health. When it comes to health and safety, in the eyes of the law and for the sake of truly supporting people, there should be no differentiation between mental and physical health. As leaders, our duty to support and protect our team members applies either way. We must embrace the “if you see something, say something” guideline to encourage workers to flag not just physical safety hazards but also threats to psychological wellbeing.
In effort to support workplaces in preparing for the surge in mental health issues they’re likely to see during the post COVID-19 transition back to “regular work”, we’re offering free interactive virtual workshops on this subject in partnership with our sister company, Arpeggio Health Services. Find details and reserve your seat at www.arpeggiohealthservices.com/covid-19. We’ll be unrolling more sessions as time goes on so be sure to check back often.
For further details about the Day of Mourning, including its history and ways to honour the purpose of the date (even if your team is working remotely), visit CCOHS’s website HERE.
To those who are working to protect and help our communities, we thank you. To those who have lost their lives on the job, we remember you. We honour each and every one of you.
Wishing each of you a healthy week.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.