Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workers’ mental health linked with COVID protection in new study

Lack of COVID protections negatively affecting worker's mental health
Adequate workplace COVID precautions not only help to prevent virus transmission but they are associated with improved worker mental health too says a new study.

The recently published findings support those from a related study which assessed Canadian health care workers' pandemic work experiences.

Documenting workers’ experience

This latest study, published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, was based upon feedback from 3,500 non-health care workers across Canada who completed an online survey from mid-April to early June, 2020.
The survey was developed and conducted by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) in consultation with members of an ad hoc pandemic survey group consisting of union health and safety representatives, activists, and academics. 

In this study, researchers examined the role of different working arrangements, adequacy of different types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection control procedures (ICP) and their impacts on worker mental health. The survey also incorporated two scientifically-recognized screening tools for anxiety and depression.

Impact of COVID precautions

The pandemic has significantly changed working conditions for many. For this study, researchers compared anxiety and depression symptoms across three groups of workers—those who worked remotely (42 per cent), at their physical workplace (51 per cent) and those who had recently lost their job (7 per cent).

The study found:
  • More than half (55 per cent) of workers surveyed screened positive for symptoms of anxiety with 42 per cent screening positive for symptoms of depression
  • Those who reported no protective measures at their workplace had a greater prevalence of anxiety and depression than those who had lost their jobs
  • Workers who felt fully protected at their work site (less and one-fifth) reported the same or slightly better mental health than those who worked remotely from home. Remote workers can experience isolation, reduced workplace social support and a lack of structure between work and home.

IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Peter Smith and lead author of the journal article said, “One way that workplaces can minimize the risks of anxiety and depression for workers is to offer those who have to come to work the equipment and protocols they need to stay safe from COVID.”

A lack of workplace policies and procedures to control hazards is just one factor that can contribute to occupational health and safety vulnerability and increase the risk of injury and illness. With COVID precautions likely to remain in place for some time, workplaces will need to assess the adequacy of infection controls and PPE as well as interventions to protect workers’ mental health. To this end Workers Health & Safety Centre has developed a COVID-19 workplace inspection checklist.

Amid a second wave of COVID and with some regions of Ontario in a second lockdown, IWH and OHCOW researchers are also looking to learn more and have relaunched the survey. It is available here.

WHSC virtual classroom. Learning and safety assured.

Quality occupational health and safety training can help. Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers several essential training programs in our virtual classroom .  

For virtual training, all that is required by the participant is a high-speed internet connection and a computer with a functioning camera and audio. When registering be sure to supply the participant’s home address, as resource materials critical to successful participation will be shipped to this address.

Be sure to check out our complete schedule of virtual classroom training, including programs aimed at promoting Mental Health at WorkCOVID-19 prevention and Certification Part I, Part II and Refresher training. Properly trained, certified joint health and safety committee members can play a critical role in building psychologically safe and healthy workplaces and in controlling COVID-19 exposures. For this reason, we have offered JHSC Certification training in safe, virtual classrooms throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so this winter. 

Beyond scheduled classes, and where participant numbers warrant, we can also work with you to coordinate almost any of our training courses in a virtual classroom for all workers, workplace representatives and supervisors.

Need more information still?
Call a WHSC training services representative in your area.
Follow us too TwitterFacebookYouTube and LinkedIn.

Additional related resources:
Workplace Violence & Harassment Resources