Connecting Mental and Physical Health in the Workplace

Despite all efforts to eliminate workplace accidents, unfortunately they can and do still happen. Not only does a workplace injury affect the worker, it can also significantly disrupt the workplace.

In 2013, 16.0% of Canadians aged 15 to 74, roughly 4.2 million people, sustained injuries in the previous 12 months that limited their normal activities. For 14.5% of those injured, their most serious injury took place while working at a job or business. 1

The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) indicate that “in 2017, 951 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada, an increase of 46 from the previous year. Among these deaths were 23 young workers aged 15-24. Additionally, the total number of Lost Time Claims in 2017 was 251,625. 2

Unfortunately, in many cases, workplace injuries are susceptible to extend far beyond the physical impact to the worker, often causing psychological trauma as well. Stress, anxiety, depression and/or chronic pain resulting from an injury may also contribute to the mental well-being of the worker. There is also a growing awareness that workplaces can be a direct cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which causes severe mental, and physical symptoms, leaving those suffering from this condition unable to work for extended periods of time.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as: a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.”3

Many symptoms of depression are common among people who have been physically injured at work and need to take time off to recover. This makes getting the worker reintegrated back into the workplace paramount to their overall well-being. Even if accommodations need to be in place for a period of time in order to facilitate this, the socialization and purposeful act of returning to work are in the best interest of the worker.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Work is important to our well-being. In addition to the income it brings, it can be a big part of our identity, how we understand our skills, and a way to contribute to something bigger.”4 Losing that connectivity to a job, and with co-workers, does have the ability to contribute to a prolonged recovery for the worker.

In speaking with DriverCheck’s Corporate Medical Director, Dr. Jonathan Davids, he agrees that an early return-to-work (RTW) approach is beneficial from a physical, and psychological well-being perspective. “Generally, the idea is that early RTW assists with physical rehabilitation of an injured body part (in the case of bone, muscle, or joint injury), but also keeps individuals engaged in the goings on of the business, keeping them connected socially with their co-workers.”

Furthermore, Dr. Davids believes that “those co-workers may also be friends, and a good support system who understand the common job requirements. That connection helps the worker to feel like part of the team, and valued for their skill knowledge if they are able to remain at work, and are accommodated in their jobs.”

Often times if a worker suffers a back injury for example, their doctor might ask, “How much time off do you need?” leading to an unnecessary leave from the workplace. A more holistic approach to the recovery plan would be to assess whether or not the worker could continue working, and simply be re-assigned in the interim until they are able to resume their normal duties.

According to The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine “Many key players in the RTW process do not fully realize the potential harm that prolonged medically excused time away from work can cause. Many think that being away from work reduces stress or allows healing and do not consider that the worker’s daily life has been disrupted.” 5

Only a physician with the knowledge and experience in occupational medicine would be able to properly evaluate whether the worker should go on disability, and for how long. If they are fit to return to work, it might also be worth exploring if they need to be on medication that could impact their ability to perform safety sensitive work, or if alternatives exist that could return them to their safety sensitive work right away.

Because mental and physical health will always be at the forefront of our workplaces and society as a whole, it is imperative for every employer to have protocols and procedures in place to address the overall health and wellness of their workforce.

 

[1] Stats Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14148-eng.htm (2013)
[2] Association of Worker’s Compensation Boards of Canada (2017)
[3] Promoting mental health: concepts, emerging evidence, practice: summary report/a report from the World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in collaboration with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the University of Melbourne (2004)
[4] Mental Illnesses in the Workplace, Canadian Mental Health Association (2016)
[5] Preventing Needless Work Disability by Helping People Stay Employed: Volume 48, Number 9, September (2006), American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine