Can Suicide Be Considered “Work Related?”…..Of Course It Can

In August of last year, a Saskatchewan man took his own life.  That event in itself is a tragedy, but learning that it was attributed, in part, to his workplace, makes it all the more tragic.  The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board made a ground-breaking decision when they said there was sufficient information to attribute his mental health issues and subsequent death to his employment. Although the workplace was not the entire reason for his mental health issues, the WCB believed it was a factor.

This decision represents the fundamental shift that is occurring in Saskatchewan, since the legislation changed in late 2016.  At that time, the Saskatchewan WCB established a rebuttable presumption for psychological injuries for workers exposed to traumatic events during the course of their employment.  A rebuttable presumption means the benefit of the doubt is given to the worker when a claim is made.  If diagnosed with a psychological injury, based on the standards established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the worker will be eligible for coverage through the WCB.  Under the new section, 28.1, the injury is presumed to be work-related and is later investigated (after the claim is accepted) by the WCB.  Previously, workers had to provide evidence the claim was work-related, and now they only have to show a lack of evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately, we now have an example to show how this legislation will be implemented.  This tragedy shines the light on the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all of their employees, both physically and psychologically. 

The prevention of harassment, including personal harassment (or “bullying”) is a legal responsibility of all employers in Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Employment Act, Part 3, Division 3, General Duties of Employers).  Although this is not new legislation, with an increase in media and talk throughout the province about mental health, this requirement is beginning to surface more and more.  In addition, employers have a general responsibility to protect the health and safety of their workers, and this goes beyond their physical safety, into their psychological health and safety as well.  To assist employers in implementing programs that will address psychological health and safety, the CSA Group developed a voluntary standard for psychological health an safety in the workplace.

Referred to technically as “CSA Z1003/BNQ 9700-803, Psychological health and safety in the workplace – Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation,” the “Standard” was developed to help organizations strive towards a psychologically healthy and safe workplace as part of an ongoing process of continual improvement.  It is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources with a focus on employee’s psychological health and the prevention of psychological harm due to workplace factors.  Its goal is to improve productivity, financial performance, recruitment and retention as well as risk management. The Standard can be implemented in it’s entirety, or in parts, depending on the needs of your organization.  The Standard is available online, at no cost.

The shift has begun and if you aren’t making changes in your workplace, this could happen to you.  The health and safety of your employees has always been important, but now more than ever the responsibility is on the employer to ensure they are safe both physically and psychologically.

For more information about how you can create a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, please contact the SHSA.

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