City Focused on Mental Health

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Robert Thomas

Mental health in the workplace is something the City of Moose Jaw takes seriously and has been pro-actively working on, says Al Bromley, Director of Human Resources. "It has been a concern of ours for awhile," He said.

Bromley spoke to MJ Independent about mental health concerns in the workplace, in light of a recent Workers Compensation Board (WCB) decision finding employment at the RM of Parkland attributed to the mental health issues and subsequent death of a grader operator named Robert Duhaime, who committed suicide, largely as a result of workplace related stress.

 According to the WCB, the RM of Parkland attributed to the mental health and subsequent death of Robert Duhaime

According to the WCB, the RM of Parkland attributed to the mental health and subsequent death of Robert Duhaime

Although he had only read media reports of Duhaime's passing, and did not have access to the WCB findings, Bromley said it was "a real sad story."

"It was surprising to me I don't know all of the circumstances," he said.

It should also be noted that the WCB policies and the decision in the RM of Parkland case applies to all employers in the province, not just municipalities. The City was chosen for this interview because they are a municipality.

Moose Jaw has already taken pro-active steps to address the issue of mental health in the workplace, Bromley stated.

"Near the end of last year we put 100 employees through workshops on mental health in the workplace...(it dealt with) the signs to let you know people are suffering. And it included what is a mental disoder, stigma and anxieties," he said, adding, additionally, 18 managers enrolled in a Queens University workplace leadership certificate program, which gave more advanced training on mental illness.

The City does accommodate employees with emotional and mental illness concerns and difficulties.

"Just like a physical ailment, people are accommodated. There are assessment forms to access mental health employment modifications...we would definitely accommodate an employee with mental illness," Bromley stated.

In the RM of Parkland, the worker's death was attributed, partially, according to media reports, to bullying and criticism directed toward him from RM council members. The RM disputes the WCB findings and is appealing the ruling.

In the City of Moose Jaw, if a Council member has a concern, it is dealt with through the City Manager, who is Moose Jaw's chief administrative officer as well as the only direct employee of City Council. "Typically, Administration deals with performance and discipline issues," he said, adding "we take it (bullying and harassment) very seriously. We have an anti-harassment policy that's pretty strident on respect in the workplace." 

All City employees have taken part in anti-harassment\bullying workshops and in on-line courses. There is an entire section on it during employee orientation.

Bromley felt the entire issue of mental illness in the workplace was major one, nationwide, for all employers.  "Its a huge issue. It is really shocking about how big of an issue it is," he said.

The City of Moose Jaw is "one of thousands of organizations in the city trying to get out in front on this issue."

Stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns are not restricted to the workplace.  A few years ago, the city  established a Family Assistance Program, where employees can make use of a confidential resource to reach out and speak to a professional counsellor without the City being notified. Issues it deals with are, but not limited to, work related stress, suicide, elder care stress and looking after other ill family members. Another area where the City has worked on is having supervisors and managers recognize potential changes in employees which could signal unhealthy stress or emotional problems.

"It all starts with a conversation with a supervisor. We're hoping to recognize when there is a change. Trying to look at a person when there is something going on and they are not themselves," Bromley stated, if necessary, it could lead to an intervention or referrals for employees to get the help they need.

Although he could not speak about specific cases, Bromley said in his six years with the City, strides had been made in terms of workplace mental and emotional health, as well as physical health.

"I think we have been much more proactive (during his six year tenure) in training, and a much better employer for our employees," he said, adding that in 2009, the city had 1,221 days lost due to worker injury, but in 2017 it was only 17.5 days lost. These figures include both physical and mental injury.

Not only have there been payoffs in employee morale, there are also monetary benefits, as well, through WCB rebates and employee retention. "Its expensive to replace people, for sure; with training time and effort, its a big hit." 

When asked about abuse employees face from the general public, Bromley stated it was most often handled at the operational level, where the employee brings the concern forward to a supervisor or manager. So he personally did not hear of many cases. "There have been examples of abusive behaviour from time to time and it is troubling when I hear it," Bromley stated.

One example he did mention dealt with excavation.

"Excavation is one of the most dangerous activities to engage in. You are looking at the slope and soil conditions and lots of factors...the crew was standing around, assessing the excavation and someone drove up and said they were leaning on shovels...they are trained to assess the excavation and how to get into the hole and finish the work safely," Bromley stated. A member of the general public drove up and began harassing the crew; the supervisor intervened but the individual would not listen.

He called the workers in the excavation crews "heroes" and said they were "dedicated to their jobs". They often partake in difficult and gruelling tasks, such as standing in deep water while trying to make repairs in -40C weather. 

Despite the strides the City has made, there are always efforts to improve.

"I'm not going to say we are perfect, but we continually improve in a lot of areas. We are more caring for the welfare of our employees," he concluded.

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