September-October 2022

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22 PalletCentral • September-October 2022 OSHA By Adele L. Abrams, Esq., ASP, CMSP Understanding the implications of the mental health crisis gripping the nation goes a long way in helping employees who may be struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Psychological First Aid & WORKPLACE MENTAL HEALTH I n recent years, there has been a marked increase of mental health issues impacting the workplace. In some cases, there may be a suicide (or attempt) that occurs at work and these tragically have the potential to claim multiple victims where the worker decides to settle scores with managers or co-workers in the process. Sometimes, the worker's stressors off the job prevent them from being fully fit for duty mentally, and accidents occur due to stress, distraction and fatigue. Sometimes interpersonal conflicts in the workplace, harassment or bullying, or witnessing (or being involved in) a workplace accident, can be the final straw. e Psychological First Aid (PFA) can be an essential tool in addressing and mitigating mental health crises occurring in the workplace, as well as being a critical technique used to assist survivors of natural disasters, mass shootings and other traumatic events that occur off-the-job. It is especially important if there is a workplace fatality or serious accident – not only to assist the victim(s) of such event but also those who witnessed or were involved with the circumstances and may themselves be traumatized or feel they are to blame (or being blamed by the employer) for the mishap. e threat is real. In the U.S. there are approximately 123 suicides per day, or one death every 12 minutes. While the construction industry has the highest suicide rate (53.3 per 100,000 workers), other sectors such as manufacturing and service sectors are not far behind. Every year 20% of Americans experience some form of mental illness, and 5% experience a serious mental illness. Moreover, there are 17 million Americans who are "dual diagnosed" – they experience both a substance abuse disorder and mental health condition. e majority of these people are in the workforce and may be employed by you! ere are also millions of U.S. workers who now suffer from "Long COVID" and experience depression, PTSD, anxiety and sleep disorders as a result that can impact their workplace safety and health performance, or even their ability to work at all. e EEOC has classified "Long COVID" as a condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and therefore employers with 15 or more workers must consider reasonable accommodations for those workers and others with diagnosed mental health disorders that have a significant impact on major life activities. ose accommodations could include remote work, hybrid or flexible schedules or other options that might be offered by the employee/applicant or coordinated with their health care professional. While employers can raise a "direct threat to safety" affirmative defense under the ADA, the EEOC is clear that simply having mental health crisis or a

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