As we have learned from our studies, the three steps of sound health and safety practices are hazard awareness, risk assessment, and the application of controls. When dealing with physical agents in the workplace such as toxic chemicals, the steps are applied in order to recognize and identify the chemical hazards; assess the risk of harm to employees in the workplace resulting from exposure to the chemical hazards; and finally, to apply controls to the chemical hazards in order to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury or harm to employees.
These same steps must be applied when dealing with psycho-social hazards in the workplace, which include a poisoned or toxic workplace culture. In the same way that toxic chemicals can cause irreparable physical harm, a toxic workplace can cause severe psychological harm resulting in devastating consequences to employee mental health and physical well-being.
Unlike physical agents, psychological hazards are sometimes more difficult to identify and to assess. A recent publication from HRD On-line provides a summary of toxic workplace hazards from the book ‘Culling Culturitis’.
As noted by the book’s author, many organizations leave the development of organizational culture to chance. From a health and safety perspective, this is a high risk strategy. As with any organic culture once an infection begins, if it is not stopped, the disease spreads throughout entire organism. When dealing with toxic workplace culture, it is imperative that the third step of controls is applied in order to stop the spread of workplace infection and it may require the elimination of the root cause at the source.
While there are some remedies provided in the article, there are numerous resources available which provide additional practical solutions for toxic workplace problems, including those provided by the federal government and a leadership blog provided on-line by Inc.
Health and Safety applies to all workplaces. Mental health and safety applies to everyone within them.
- Have you worked in a toxic environment? What was the impact on you and/or your colleagues?
- Why do you think employees stay in a toxic work environment even though it is detrimental to their own mental health?
- What advice would you give to the CEO of a toxic workplace culture in order to make a constructive change?