Mental Health, Risk and Safety – Part 2

by Dr Rob Long on March 9, 2014

in FIFO,Psychology of Safety and Risk,Robert Long,Zero Harm

Mental Health, Risk and Safety – Part 2

Part 2 of one of the most popular articles we have ever published, by Dr Rob Long from Human Dymensions. and author of the book “Real Risk”

imageIn the previous blog (Mental Health, Risk and Safety Part 1) I discussed the invisibility of mental health in risk and safety. The invisibility of mental health is not only in the training and mis-preparedness of those in the trade of safety and risk but is ‘made invisible’ by the industry itself in how it frames risk and safety. How the industry and organisations frame risk and safety is primarily physical and instrumental. There is no tradition in the risk and safety industry or organisations that make understanding and knowledge of non-conscious decision making part of risk and safety thinking. It’s all about physical hazards, barriers, engineering, technology, regulation and standards somehow, knowledge and understanding about humans is relegated to irrelevant. When it comes to mental health there is lip service but most are blindsided to what mental health is all about. The trade of WHS should really be SWHS, selective work health and safety because on current trends, it’s not that holistic. Maybe, one day when SWHS becomes holistic it may become a profession.

If one is looking for evidence of blindsidedness to mental health one has to look no further than FIFO and DIDO.

Perhaps, for a start have a quick look at recent reports:

And people wonder why I criticize zero harm as a nonsense. How wonderful it must be to parade nonsense injury data about an organisation, brag about the nature of cuts and bruises, attribute all kinds of misattributions to frequency rates and numbers and, then knowingly injure people in a risk trade off in mental health for work practice. Selective Work Health and Safety at its best slipping under the radar of zero harm ideology. As long as we let the spin of zero harm reign, people will be blindsided by such framing and be prevented by the old binary – how many do you want killed today nonsense language, from discerning zero harm language masks reality.

A friend of my son’s has served in three tours of Afghanistan, he tells of horrible things he has done in the name of good. One day Ted rings me, he is on a train station in Sydney. Ted tells me that I am his last call before he jumps off into an on coming train. (What, hasn’t he seen the dumb ways to die campaign?). His post traumatic stress (PTSD) is excruciating and painful. For many reasons he doesn’t want to live and a train is quick. After an hour of talking I am able to pursuade him into catching the same train that was going to kill him to Kings Cross and see my brother at the Wayside Chapel. He catches the train and gets some help and to this day after quite some time of support and counselling is managing his PTSD reasonably well. Why didn’t Ted seek help from the Australian Defence Forces services, they have plenty? Well, turns out it’s a bit like EAP, people don’t use it. The stigma and culture associated with EAP services limits it’s use to about 3% of an organisations population. So, whilst we have high levels of mental health in organisations ( and, mechanisms to support people with mental health, they don’t get used. I guess because mental health is invisible and organisations create invisibility of mental health it will remain this way for some time to come.

There is no study of mental health, the non-conscious, unconscious decision making or social psychology of risk in any risk and safety training in Australia. Even when discussion is raised on such topics most in the trade of safety default back to their created mindset of barriers, bollards and bashing. The industry continues to create this blindness through framing risk and safety through a discourse of intolerance. There is no room for tolerance, compassion, understanding or humanizing others in a discourse of intolerance, punishment and masculinist rigidity. Ah, god bless the discourse of zero, for the love of zero.

So, if people aren’t using the services available and some organisations don’t even provide mental health support services, where do the injured go?

Well, the system ‘teaches’ the sufferer to suppress, deny and hide their mental health, making it more invisible. People then seek out places where they can find understanding and empathy, and it’s most often not at work. (Work is too busy doing reports on how many band-aids left the first aid cabinet that week). Zero helps people focus on the micro whilst the macro issues slide under the radar. This dynamic shifts the cost to other agencies or stresses out the family to breaking point. Some seek suicide as their best option ah yes, and this won’t show up in injury data, zero harm stays in tact. Some leave and become co-dependent on medication and the welfare system. Others find work where their condition is understood and where zero doesn’t reign. Unfortunately at this stage the industry and many organisations and, the trade of risk and safety remains in denial.

  • Mark

    While sitting in a park watching the sun go down, kids playing with no care and parents looking at me as if I am a possible threat, I thought I write this little prose.

    All too Human (tittle only from FN, the rest is me)

    I am not sure if I want to be called a human. Let us say that an alien craft landed and the leader of the ship came out and I greeted it. Would I be comfortable to welcome it here and acknowledge to it that I was a human, the ultimate animal with a conscience. It may very well get back on board its craft and take off to find another planet. For sure it landed here by mistake in its exploration to find any intelligent caring being/s. Imagine that it had watched what was on our TV each day for the last 20years while it traveled our way in the universe, imagine that it watched our nightly news and current affair programs each night, imagine it happened to watch some of our movies; like Hannibal, Wolf Creek, Jack Ass and Hostage. Imagine it watched how we treat our animals and kill off sharks because one shark killed one of us, yet it was not sure why we don’t kill snakes because they kill more of us each year than sharks, and why we don’t ban alcohol because it kills many, many more. How we cut down 86,400 football fields of rainforest per day. How we spend millions each year on fighting terrorist (the fight for oil) when more than 3.4 million people die each year from poor water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. How we spend millions developing military weapons and military machines that can wipe out a nation in less than an hour, yet we cannot give simple education to everyone.

    We humans kill, steal, cannibalise, treat others as less, we tease, discriminate, shame, belittle fellow humans, we control, monitor, enslave, force ethics, we segregate, take away, outcast just to name a few things, then we have all these thing to control these things to somehow say we are in control of the situation.

    People say they care, mostly to make themselves feel good and or to make others think they are humble and a caring sole, it’s like those who think that we should let boat people into our country, they go around with their opinions of righteousness, yet, would these people take in these fellow humans under their own roof and support them as if they were family? Would they accept them into their life on a full time bases? I doubt many would, because would you risk your lifestyle and security for a stranger/s, who are themselves “all too human”. A fellow human who can do evil and take your trust away beyond any moral value you have, who can turn on you and your kindness in an instant.

    We humans are not ethical, we sure like to think we are, but look at history. We assume things stable and in control, but this is the fools paradise.

    “Ask me any question and I will answer with what I know and what I think, don’t ask if you are not open, or if you want or seek the truth, for not I, just like you or any other, knows such truth” MD

    “All my questions remain open, yet those who know everything cannot answer them” MD

  • Mark

    Yes, linkedin is full of rigthous soles, often those challaged or asked questions get angry and refuse to use the site anay longer because they cannot handle anyone not thinking their way.

    Point 5 is an issue with all one way thinking!

  • Hi Alan, good to hear from you. I think Andrew Keen sums it up well and you are certainly better than I at the Linkedin game. All the best. Rob

  • Speaking of Linkedin I’ve just had a most interesting few days on LINKEDIN…

    Things I learned over the past two days on a variety of Linkedin discussions:

    (1) It’s apparently OK to discount that what does not agree with your position as simply “less than rational.”

    (2) It’s OK to only quote the bits of reports that agree with your position.

    (3) Opinions which agree with your position are apparently FACTS where dissenting opinion is just opinion.

    (4) More Volume = More Credibility. Larger reports = more validly (of course only if 1,2,3 apply)

    (5) Never answer the tough question…just ignore them like they we not asked.

    Humans being human!

  • Mark

    Spot on Wynand, I have also being saying this for years that safety people are labeled the gurus of everything (well people turn to us when the shit hits the fan anyway), when and why this thinking has come about I will never know (other than job multitasking to save money). Safety people should not have anything to do with many things (engineering, operation, planning, leading or for that matter psychology ), but they do because they have to. I bet most safety people do not practice safety (because of al the stuff they do outside of safety), of if they do; I think they would only practice a small amount, unless that is they think data entry and hazard card counting and reactive incident investigation constitutes safety.

    Rob, I don’t think the safety industry continues to create blindness through framing risk and safety through a discourse of intolerance, I just think it does not know what to do with it…and rightfully so. Safety is so immature and still evolving from old school principles, and I think topics like this are being forced into an industry where it should not be or go. How would you like it if psychology was being blamed for not conducting audits. (before you go off on a tanty and take what I am saying the wrong way, I am agreeing with you).

    And with what Dave said; If you want to be a Mental Health Worker, or a Social Worker change your Career Path. It is NOT Safety

    This sums up this whole topic and we should not be telling anyone on this forum about this issues other than the basic stuff we all should learn about (or be told about in hope that people listen).

  • Wynand

    In a previous comment I mentioned why I believe mental health is a serious safety issue. I agree that the typical safety professional/ manager/ practitioner should not involve himself in the treatment of mental health, nor should they try to diagnose. However, there is a lot to be done in the realm of safety that involves mental health. We need to move from “unconsciously incompetent” on the learning scale to “consciously incompetent”, i.e. get to the point we realise what we do not know. Then involve the experts. Safety, like any holistic approach, should be a team effort. The team needs the legal experts, the engineers who know about design and risk, the ergonomics or “people factors” specialists, the risk experts, AND the psychology experts. We cannot be the be-all and end-all of the profession. We should be open to learn and involve the appropriate specialists. If I cannot design a culture change due to insufficient knowledge, I need to involve a specialist who can advise me on what I can do and should do, and what not. I also need to develop a sense of what is appropriate and what is not, so that I can make proper choices on what is appropriate to include and what should be left out. Many companies spend a lot of money to employ psychologists (clinical or industrial), yet when it comes to safety they are excluded. I believe the plea from a few posters here are that we use the diversity available to get the cooperative knowledge instead of trying to do everything, and in the process get rid of incorrect or damaging mantras and ideologies.

  • At no time have I suggested safety people do mental health case management.

  • Mike Thomas

    Hi Dave, I agree about your comment regarding safety professionals being unqualified to deal in mental health issues indeed it is part of due to diligence to ensure that those giving out advice are qualified in the area however highly qualified they may be in other areas or the nature of the company/institution in which they may be employed. As Rob Long says we need to be very careful of snake oil salesmen.

    Michael I agree with your comment about amateurs playing mental health advocate and we need to ensure that we engage only registered health professionals to advise in this area. As a St John Ambulance volunteer I have been given a small amount of training in dealing with those affected by drugs and/or mental illness and the whole area is a minefield, you need to be very careful indeed.

  • Mark

    Forgot to say…

    As i have mentioned before, safety people should not be managing mental health, nor should anyone else not educated in this field…how hard is it for people Mindful leaders) to get their heads around this topic. If organisations were really concerned about people (the key factor so i thought), they would employ professionals either full time or part time. I think it should be mandatory that all business take on the services of a philologists, just as it is mandatory for safety, it makes so much sense (this is not an expert debate or what makes an expert). But maybe they would be too concerned about litigation the sessions would bring out. These companies are content to pay out heaps on the services of things that make them money, or they need, but little on services required to keep the operation healthy. Its like not servicing your car, but putting mags on to make it look better.

  • Dave, that’s why I don’t do linkedin, its the cult of the amateur at best and testimony to the dysfunctionality of the industry and its preoccupation with regulation at the expense of humans. I thought work, HEALTH and safety was the idea. One of the worst things about the sector is this illogical divide made by practitioners over experts (or experts over practitioners) or whatever other projected dichotomous binary nonsense one wants to parade as intelligence. Yet, when we are sick we go to experts for surgery and diagnosis, to pilots to fly our planes and lawyers when we go to court but, when it comes to psychology, learning and health the safety trade generally rubbishes expertise (as in recent posts on leadership) and or, totally avoids learning and omits any reference to Health in the role of WHS.

  • I am astounded at the levels of ignorance and arrogance existing in the safety world and the fact that safety people think that THEY need to control and fix EVERYTHING! This was another comment from LinkedIn:

    Our industry is FILLED with unqualified and/or incompetent Safety “Professionals”.

    It is a BIG mistake to encourage those to “dabble” in Mental Health “screening” under ANY circumstances. May want to discuss this with the company’s Insurance Provider, since new Liabilities are at hand the instant the subject is brought up by a Company Representative (you) in an official capacity with a worker. (This can of worms comes in a 55 Gallon Drum)

    This conversation has been going on in several feeds actually.

    If they can’t spot a drug addict or alcoholic on sight, you think they’ll be better at the more subtle, or esoteric issues? In a PIGS EYE. and WE should already know better.

    If you want to be a Mental Health Worker, or a Social Worker change your Career Path.

    It is NOT Safety.

  • Michael, I don’t think that most EHS professionals are proficient at BBS programs or risk assessments, without some social psychological understanding these will remain superficial and provide a delusion that things are being managed. BBS actually inoculates EHS people against humanising safety, it is behaviourist, mechanistic and leads to a policing culture, again suppressing confession, trust and openness. BTW, I don’t understand an approach to EHS that is not holistic, in the end we end up with an EHS systems that conveniently and selectively intervenes in the personal dimensions of a persons life eg. choice to risk but selectively stays away from mental health, that of course affects a persons choice about risk.

  • Garry, I think the article makes it clear why there is nothing in WHS training or zero harm organisations about mental health, it is culturally suppressed and in direct contradiction to current WHS culture. Look at any SIA conference and its all about regulation, fear and punishment, look at any WHS training – the same, look at any tier one, all fear and punishment. How does someone injured in mental health speak and expect compassion in such organisations? How can individual difference, tolerance and hope be experienced in an organisation that talks in a mindless discourse of infalliblity? The sector doesn’t even know that language primes culture, there is so much nonsense language and thinking out there it defies imagination. People promising and incident free future, snake oil people promising all sorts of superhuman outcomes when running underground is the discourse that human weakness will not be tolerated.

  • Paul, there are rarely recognisable signs and symptoms that the everyday person can identify , indeed most mid- attribute diagnosis to non mental health systems . The best indicator is confession or reporting and this is currently what the culture suppresses.

  • Most EHS professionals are quite proficient with behavior based safety programs and risk assessment. I can only speak for myself, but I do not feel qualified to incorporate and administer a mental health aspect into my duties. The human brain is very complex and even the “experts” know very little about how it operates. It seems to me that having a group of amateurs playing mental health advocate in corporate safety is a disaster in the making. Why not concentrate on getting buy-in and safe behavior, fix the dangerous conditions, educate, coach, mentor, and stay out of employee’s personal space. This is a far overreach of the employer/employee relationship. Orwellian, to say the least.
    By Michael Parker CSP, CHST on LinkedIn

  • While there is often an element of invisibility to mental illness, there are often overt or subtle signs and symptoms that we can train on. We can’t let the difficulty of recognition be an excuse for doing nothing – and there are certainly resources for help that we can then direct the person to – as in the case of the telephone call that intervened during expressed thoughts of suicide-by-train. I frame this topic in the larger context of workplace violence as just one reason to be concerned. Concern for the welfare of the person with a mental illness is yet another reason to educate managers and supervisors on the signs and symptoms; and then teach them what to do in those situations (so they don’t ‘freeze’ in such situations out of ignorance and do nothing – or even making the situation worse). I don’t intend to turn all of my staff into trained mental health experts; but there are small steps they can take to intervene – whether its helping someone with a mental health concern or stopping a potential workplace violence incident.
    By Paul Abrams on LinkedIn

  • Dave, how is it that are no other comments on your post? I have been in OHS in mining for many years. There is no training or understanding in current OHS of mental health issues. This is why I am studying psychology because I have been asking about this for some time , particularly in incident investigation. I can only say you are on the ball with this and I agree with your post
    By Garry Fidler on LinkedIn

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