Mental health awareness is continuously evolving and recognizing how to support and encourage well-being can significantly improve a workplace and the employees within it. The costs of ignoring mental health in the workplace can be steep in more ways than lost productivity: it can hinder the success and growth of employees – and ultimately the company as a whole.
Under the leadership of Andrew Goodey, Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), we launched an initiative that has enabled a culture shift and a marked improvement in mental health – the DMC Mental Health First Aid course. Much of the success of the initiative is due to the hard work of Don Langlois, Manager of Occupational Health, Hygiene and CSR.
Don Langlois investigated the reason for leaves of absence at one of DMC’s large project mine sites and discovered that mental health was a core cause, strongly affecting the frequency and length of absences. During this study, it was discovered that many individuals were off work due to mental health issues, with leave of absence rates exceeding 6 months. Looking deeper, Don noted that education about mental health was insufficient. This research was used to design and build a three-tiered initiative.
The first tier is a General Awareness Session for all employees that informs them of the importance of mental health, symptoms of illness, and what language to use to appropriately discuss it. Next is an Advanced Course that provides managers and supervisors with additional tools and resources for mental health. These courses were developed by Don for DMC.
The final tier of the initiative is to offer training in Mental Health First Aid. This is a two day program, regulated and standardized by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, that trains participants how to support mental health in others and treat those in crisis. Those who complete the course earn a qualification, comparable to First Aid Certification.
This initiative was implemented at the mine between 2016 and 2019. Six sessions were conducted, and more than 50 people from DMC and the client were certified in Mental Health First Aid. The impact was remarkable: the average leave of absence rate decreased to less than 16 days, and mental health related leaves were reduced by over 80%.
Supervisors who noticed signs of trouble quietly connected workers with Don, so that support plans could be put in place. In some cases, staff no longer had to take any time off. Staff who required leave only needed weeks instead of months to recover and return and didn’t need to struggle to find support and begin their recovery.
Those who benefited from mental health support plans often became advocates for the program, transforming workplace culture from inside. The culture of mining safety is one where people look out for each other, making it a natural fit for mental health. As a result, morale and workplace culture both became more positive.
Since many contractors and subcontractors in the mining sector don’t tend to invest in mental health initiatives, Don and Andrew’s successes have piqued plenty of interest. As a result, Don was requested to lead talks and conduct workshops outside of DMC offices. Since the initiative began, Don has led workshops and spoken about the program at industry conferences, most recently CIM Montreal in April 2019.
As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility platform, we partnered with Workplace Safety North, a not-for-profit organization supporting many northern Ontario industries, from mining to forestry. The goal of the partnership is to offer Mental Health First Aid courses free of charge, as a way of giving back to communities and small businesses, which otherwise could not afford the seminar.
Safety is a core value for us, and the mental health initiative allows us an internal and external way to provide the resources and support that can be hard to access, especially in remote communities and work-sites. As Don likes to say, behind every mental health statistic is a living human being, and that person has an effect on all those around them. Employees are happier and more confident knowing there are resources available.
While there is an economic return on investment for such initiatives, there is a greater moral reward. This is a way for DMC to provide added value to clients, but also to actively support our people’s success professionally and personally. As a full-service mining contractor, our people are everything, and without their health and success, we cannot be successful.