The new Health and Safety Act provides for mental health issues, so employers will need to consider the mental health of their workers as part of providing a safe workplace.
Traditionally, Worksafe has focused on physical harms, however these days, more and more of us work inside, at a desk. The type of workplace hazards we tend to think of, like machinery or working at heights aren’t present. Instead we experience stress and adrenaline in a competitive environment of deadlines and performance targets and evidence is mounting about the damage they cause.
The Employment Relations Authority and the Employment Court have accepted that an employee can suffer harm as a result of “stress”, “fatigue”, or “bullying”. This can be considered a breach of contract by the employer.
The challenge is that non-physical harms are difficult to spot with employers dependent on staff coming forward to say that they are struggling.
Culture and leadership from the top is key. Health and safety, including mental health should be integral to the business, not something you do after you’ve done everything else. This requires the employers to buy into the idea that this is a real health issue.
Businesses need to treat mental health information as confidential and take it seriously, to see stress, fatigue and bullying as hazards and harms that need to be addressed. And employees need to feel comfortable raising mental health concerns with employers. If your workplace does not acknowledge mental harms as being “real”, employees are not likely to raise concerns, making it more difficult to resolve problems.
Ultimately, a mentally healthy workplace should experience greater productivity and greater staff retention so it’s in everyone’s interests to work at getting it right.