A national agency best known for certifying sports equipment, appliances and technology has published a new guide aimed at helping companies create a safe environment for whistleblowers.

The Canadian Standards Association — now called CSA Group — has developed a how-to guide for organizations wanting to draw up their own whistleblower systems. The guide is aimed specifically at small and medium sized businesses.

Hilary Davies, a project manager at CSA Group, said there are rigid regulations governing illegal activity in the workplace, but rules surrounding ethics are often less clear.

Hilary Davies, Project Manager CSA

Hilary Davies is a project manager with CSA Group. (Julie Ireon CBC)

Whistleblower policy could apply to financial, environmental or health and safety concerns that can arise.

"This guide goes beyond illegal activities. If there are activities that are deemed unethical, but not necessarily illegal, then it wouldn't be covered by legislation or regulations, that's where the guide really helps to expand that scope," said Davies. 

She noted it's also useful for organizations that do have existing whistleblower policies, because they can see how they can update and improve the systems they have in place.

The guide, which was written by business executives, academics, investigators and former whistleblowers is now available for free on CSA's communities of interest website.

'Speak up' culture

"A lot of the focus was on encouraging a 'speak up' culture and really looking at preventing reprisals from happening, encouraging a culture in the workplace that would allow them to talk about suspected wrong doing," said Davies. 

'They have to be confident that the system they're participating in is going to protect them.' - Robert Shepherd, Carleton University
Robert Shepherd, a professor at the School of Public Policy at Carleton University, headed up the working group that wrote the guide.

He said it's key for organizations to get buy-in from employees if a whistleblowing system is going to work.

"They have to be confident that the system they're participating in is going to protect them. The one thing that people fear the most is reprisal. How does one protect one's self from reprisal? So we give lots of advice on ways that you might do that," said Shepherd. 

The guide states: "There is a strong relationship between the creation of a psychologically safe and healthy workplace and the creation of a whistleblowing system ... and reinforcing a culture that gives employees 'voice.'" 

Shepherd said he's already hearing from small companies and NGOs that tell him such a guidebook was long overdue.

To contact Julie Ireton, email julie.ireton@cbc.ca or call 613-288-6478