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Mindful Connections: Individual Responsibility & Effective Leadership in Mental Health with Petra Velzeboer

Mindful Connections Individual Responsibility and Effective Leadership in Mental Health

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“Psychological safety effectively is trust.” In honor of World Mental Health Day, we invite you to listen to the latest episode of The Safety Guru featuring Petra Velzeboer, renowned mental health expert and TEDx speaker. You won’t want to miss this episode as Petra shares her expertise and advice on creating mindful connections through effective leadership, the importance of vulnerability, and beneficial strategies to approach mental health with a preventive mindset in the workplace. Tune in!

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m really excited to have with me, Petra Velzeboer. She’s a mental health expert, a TEDx speaker, and author of Begin with You. Petra, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me.

We’re recording this; obviously, this World Mental Health Day that’s coming on to us. First, I want to hear your story. You have a lot of experience in the mental health space. You’ve committed yourself to doing a lot of work to help organizations create an environment that’s safe from a psychological standpoint. Tell me a little bit about your story.

Sure, thank you. Well, I guess I grew up in a really toxic environment, right? So, I grew up in a religious cult, which is a little bit extreme for some. But interestingly, and I’ll go into why these matters to me, it’s interesting how many similarities there are between that environment that I fought my way out of and the corporate world and the toxicity that I see there. So that, I guess, informs some of my approach. I guess part of my story is that, like many of us in the mental health space, I found myself in a time where I was struggling. So, I had finally left the cult and some of that buildup of stress and toxicity that I didn’t know how to process or let go of or any of those things. And it stacked up and affected me as I left in the form of depression, anxiety, and severe addiction. And so, the first steps of learning were to how do I sort myself out and develop good mental health. And over time, I qualified as a therapist. I now run my business, as you said, and support businesses to have that awareness both individually, so individual responsibility for our own wellbeing and mental health, but also organizational, that collective responsibility for safety, psychologically to support teams.

There’s a little hint of my perspective.

Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about some of the skills that are needed to create an environment that fosters mental health or good mental health in the workplace.

I think the first thing is always self-awareness, right? Because we can’t quite tell other people what to do or how to approach this topic if we’re not quite aware of ourselves, our own triggers, our own mental health, and the things that help us to build trust. So psychological safety effectively is trust, right? When we trust each other, we’re comfortable talking about mistakes or collaborating on projects and being vulnerable. And there’s loads of evidence, as I’m sure many listeners are aware of. When we put ourselves out of their vulnerability and create that trust, we actually create more innovation and better products. We sustain success longer term. But the actual day-to-day work of it is tricky if you don’t understand it or know yourself. And so that means if I’m going to talk to a team member, I’m going to want to know, am I exhausted or not my best self or unable to maybe build trust? Am I blaming? Am I not leading, by example, myself? And those are the small daily actions and skills that then trickle down and give others permission to put themselves out there as well.

And to organizations that are wanting to drive improvements from a cultural standpoint. Here, for example, in Australia, there’s a lot of focus lately around legislation around psychosocial risk as an example to create safer environments for workers both physically but also emotionally and mentally in terms of the workplace. Tell me about some of the things that organizations can do to embrace and drive that change. Because the self-awareness, I think, is essential, but that starts with a leader, a few leaders. How do you drive that environment?

Sure. I love the psychosocial risk because it does break down against management level, senior leadership level. What are the things that we need to look out for in order to support safety? If we think of safety just in construction type industries or anything like that, if we don’t trust and we can’t say, Hey, I’m having a bad day, I’m not my best self, we’ve got one of our facilitators, actually, who shot a stungun through his own hand, not because safety wasn’t in place as far as precautions, but because health wasn’t in place as far as looking after his brain and his mindset and being comfortable to say something. And so, these are small examples of the impact. But what organizations can do is firstly open up the conversation, right? There’s a great book by Amy Edmondson called The Fearless Organization that gives some great tips and tools for how to get started. But it really does start with open conversations as a team. So, we want to learn some of the tactics, but really, we’re living in a world that’s reactive. We’re firefighting. We’re in a rush, we’re in survival mode. And so, the first step is to take that step back and actually go, Actually, if we connect as a team and we discuss psychological safety where we think it’s going well, and the areas where perhaps it isn’t, we then now have a baseline to collaborate on this topic.

I’ve worked in companies where some departments say they have psychological safety and others don’t. So, it can be one organization but have pockets that feel different depending on the manager and how things are run, perhaps culturally in the country they’re in. There are many factors.

I know one of the pieces I was watching was one of your talks, and you mentioned a lot of organizations you go in when you approach them and say, what are you doing around mental health? They’ll talk about helplines, things of that nature. Why is that insufficient?

It’s a very reactive way of approaching things, and it actually perpetuates stigma, I think, because if it’s saying, Let’s talk about mental health, and then all we talk about is poor mental health, depression, suicide, help lines, and nobody wants to be part of that club. It’s only the ones who are really in a really severe chaos space that will be calling those helplines, but nobody’s going to put their hand up and say, I’m in crisis in that situation. But we want to come from a preventative approach. So, 10, 20, 30 steps before somebody are in that crisis space where they may need the helpline, what’s the culture? What’s the trust? How can we openly talk about mental health, well-being, and performance, and all of these things long before it gets to any crisis point? And people want to be part of a club that is performing and doing well and is successful. So, my work is about tying those things together, performance and well-being, being intrinsic to each other in order to lead successful lives. But in my book, I highlight what does success mean to you. It’s not just the classic. Did I get a promotion?

It’s like, am I connected with my kids? Do I get to have the holidays or the downtime that I like? But also, if you’re ambitious like me, do I have a healthy body and a healthy mind and friendships and networks to enable me to enjoy that journey and not get to the top of the mountain completely fried or burnt out like many people are, forgetting what it’s all about in the first place. And I know one of the things as well you talk about is the changing workplace. And obviously, a lot of people now we’ve worked in a hybrid environment or remote environment. How does that impact a mentally safe, healthy environment?

I think it’s about change. And so, hybrid work is one part of that change. But in a post-pandemic world, there’s been so much uncertainty, so much change, and that is making many people sit firmly in that survival mode for much longer than really our bodies are set out to sit in that space. Really, you want survival mode to be like that immediate fight or flight reaction because I need to decide to stay safe. But these days, you get a notification on your phone, and your body doesn’t know the difference between a real threat or a perceived threat. So, our nervous system spikes as if something terrible is going on. Now, remote work can have a negative effect on some people’s mental health, but I’m hesitant to say that that’s the problem, right? I’m a fully remote team, and we discuss mental health all the time, and people feel more connected than ever. And part of that is to do with flexibility, autonomy, and trust. So, when you have flexibility, autonomy, and trust, then people feel like they can work wherever they can be their best selves, right? And so, if that means coming in to have some face-to-face time or working from home, I mean, it really works for us, right?

And it’s the healthiest way that we can work as a team. What’s interesting is the number of policies popping up, right? So, our hybrid or remote work policy, as if there’s like, we must maybe control the masses a little bit and have a very fixed view of what this needs to look like, as if any of us have been in this situation before and can claim that the exact three-two ratio or two-three ratio is the way we’ll be the most productive, right? I want more leaders to be open and collaborative with their people. So, with my team, we will have discussions about how we work, not just what we do. When do you work at your best self? Is it the morning? Is it at home? What are the conditions that enable you to feel your best? So having those conversations enables you to understand your team, for people to know what flexibility actually means for your industry, because sometimes there’s loads of assumptions going on, and people get nervous when they don’t quite understand what’s expected. But also, managers saying, hey, we’re going to try this thing two days in or whatever it might be.

Let’s discuss if it’s working for us or if we need to change it. That’s more of a collaborative way to build psychological safety through a process rather than acting like. We’re top-down. We know exactly how this should go. And if you don’t comply, it’s your fault. You’re burnt out. You need to leave, that thing. The flip side is, for some people, a lack of connection and belonging, and that isolation piece we’re seeing, affects mental health negatively in lots of ways as well. And one of the themes I often hear in the hybrid environment is people challenged with a disconnect from work. In a workplace, you would work, say, nine to five or whatever hours you worked, and you went home, and it was easier to create that separation. And even as people have moved to more hybrid environments or continue in a virtual environment, it’s how do I drive that disconnect to be able to separate?

It’s creating boundaries, right? Right. And in the past, it feels like the boundaries were more fixed by your role, right? Everyone leaves at this time. I can see them leaving, and I walk out. I have the train ride or drive or whatever it might be to listen to music or read my book or scroll or whatever it is, and it creates that buffer. But these days, first of all, it’s harder to maintain habits because two days you’re in the office, a couple of days your home. So, your routine might be different on different days. And so, for many people, it’s hard to have that consistency. But these days, we need to take more ownership of our own boundaries, right? Because your laptops are at home, you could be working on your phone. You could be doing these things. So, it takes that self-awareness and ownership to go. This is the boundary I will now take responsibility for. So, I work at home. At the end of my day, I will probably go for a walk so that I can before my kids are around and I have to do any of that. So that’s me creating my own buffer or boundary to top and tail the day.

Everybody’s different. Our well-being tools and plans can change. That’s totally fine. But it takes this little moment of reflection to go, how do I feel? What’s good for me? And is the technology addiction or work addiction catching up with me somehow? And are there things that organizations can do to help people to essentially drive that separation, those boundaries, essentially?

Two key things. So one is, again, having explicit conversations about expectations, right? Because when there’s confusion and maybe the more junior people feel nervous about asking, right? That what they do is they watch people. So, this is the other piece. Are your managers and leaders leading by example? And that doesn’t mean everyone has to finish at 5:00, right? Because sometimes they might start later, they might have a project on. But it does mean openly talking about what we do to invest in our well-being. And that’s like a question we ask each other openly in my team. It’s like, what are you doing today to invest in your well-being? Or how are you going to close your day off? We have those challenges and open conversations, and it might be different, right? We’ve got some of the team who have kids and might pick them up and then work later. That’s totally fine. But we have had the conversation, so there are no whispers of, oh, that person’s not around. We get what their routine is because we’ve openly talked about it. So managers and leaders leading by example is not just saying, I’m going to switch off, and that’s one part of it, but it’s also, I’ve got this real important meeting, and when that’s finished because it’s really stressful, I’m going to make sure I hit the gym, or I call someone, or it’s like, how are we managing our stresses throughout the day effectively? That’s the important piece.

This episode of The Safety Guru Podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, enable your performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

Very interesting and really good points on this one. We touched a little bit on psychological safety in Amy Edmondson’s work. You touched on mental health in the workplace. In my opinion, they’re not necessarily the same thing because psychological safety, at least the way I interpret it from reading Amy’s work, is more, do I feel comfortable speaking up, raising issues? But it doesn’t necessarily… It’s a key component, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a workplace that fosters healthy mental well-being. How do you draw that delineation? Because I’ve seen in some organizations where they confuse both and say, I’m dealing with psychological safety. Therefore, I’m addressing the mental well-being of my workforce. Key component, but not necessarily complete cause and effect.

That’s amazing that you’ve divided it in that way because you can be psychologically safe in a blinkered workplace. We talked about when we failed, like, hey, we’re all iterating a project. This didn’t work, but this did work, and we feel comfortable talking in the work context. If you think of maybe some of the tech companies out there, lots of introverts statistically, lots of men statistically, let’s make this product better. So maybe purpose-driven is something that really helps that side of things, but they would never say, How’s your mental health today? Or what have you done to invest in yourself? Or any of that language. So, for me, that’s about practicing bravery. It’s the same concept because it’s building trust, but people are less practiced in using those skills that Amy Edmondson talks about and moving them into a space about the person, so the individual, not just the collective task. And so, for me, it’s about the same ideas, leading by example, trust, bravery, these sorts of things, but then talking about the human that is connected to the project, right? What are you really passionate about? What lights you up?

Questions like this. And you can do this in either formal or informal ways. In my team, we’ll do the top-of-A-team meeting once a week. We’ll take turns, and somebody will ask a question like that. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing, personally or professionally? And somebody might say, oh, to be honest, this thing’s going on. Or what’s one thing you’re grateful for? Or what’s the best holiday you ever had? Whatever. It’s just little things that can be playful, serious, or deep that help us get to know the person, which enhances the trust and safety of the work and the purpose on that side. But it also means you have built the building blocks that if someone is struggling, and we know that countless people are experiencing burnout, the suicides are high, depression, anxiety, these sorts of things. You now have the foundation where you can actually talk about these things. But there’s a misconception. Many managers don’t want to ask these questions for a few reasons. One is that they think immediately that that person needs time off. What if everybody has time off and duvet days because everyone’s like, oh, not feeling well?

But actually, the opposite is often true, that people are not looking for time off. When you’re coming from a prevention perspective, right? It’s actually like, oh, the fact that I could say it has given me some relief. And then my questions as a leader might be, what’s one small thing you can do to manage your mental health or to tackle that situation? And how can I help? Often, they’ll say, oh, it was just the fact that I was able to say it, and thanks for your support. Then, of course, you do have helplines in places that can add value. Then the other fear that managers have is they won’t know the answer, right? They won’t know how to fix the thing that the person comes with. I’m going through a divorce, my kid’s struggling, or I’m experiencing depression. And as you probably know, you don’t actually need to fix it, right? The thing that supports this is listening and creating that safe space. And then, I would follow that with empowering personal solutions. So, it doesn’t, actually… So just some of the training we do is relieving some of those pressures that we imagine bridging some of the skills for psychological safety into the well-being mental health arena.

So, tell me a little bit about your book. Begin with you. And then I’d love to hear afterward a little bit about some of the work that you do in terms of the interventions with organizations to help foster the right environment.

Sure. Thanks so much. So, my book came out in the early stages of this year. It’s called Begin with You. It’s a business book, but published by Cogon Page, and it has a bit more of my story. So, if you were intrigued by the like, oh, Cult-Life, who is this person? I certainly go deep into some of that and also the connections that I make from that personal experience and then the studies that I’ve done on the world of the workplace, but also, I call it groupthink, right? So, you’ll be familiar with that phrasing. Even in the wellbeing space, we’ve got all these influencers telling you every step plan to be your best and the framework for whatever. My challenge to people is to learn to think for themselves. In a world of information overload, how can we actually take that minute to reflect and go, what does my body need? Because it will be different from someone else. We’re almost in the stage of frantically trying to do well-being. If I meditate, if I have a cold shower, if I journal, if I practice gratitude, if I climb a mountain, all the things.

It’s like this competitive well-being. And I’d like people to… So that’s what the book is about, challenging the concept of what this means and refocusing on whatever success means to you and building that narrative. So that’s a little bit about that. And, of course, it informs the work that I do, which is around helping businesses from a couple of levels. So, one is their strategy. So, what’s your strategic approach around well-being? And how does it link to your diversity agenda, your health and safety agenda? Because we’re seeing lots of silos, especially in bigger businesses, right? Where well-being is like over there. But then all these other components are in different silos, not really coordinating, or they don’t have a shared comms plan. So, they’re almost competing for, no, I need this date for my awareness day, or I need to put on my talk. And we want people to coordinate because that’s when you can all be successful together. And so that’s around helping wellbeing leads as well, evidence the return on investment of what they’re doing, because it can be a little bit throw things at the wall and see what sticks. And so, from that information, when we can assess where a business is at, our job is to then advise them on that step-by-step plan, offer leadership training, and virtual sessions in person.

And we like the real in-person stuff or virtual, but as in live, because it just fosters connection and belonging, which we think is really important to well-being in the workplace.

The point of coordination, I think, is incredibly important because often safety is an example, which is a topic we touch on in this podcast the most, is physical safety. But it’s intrinsically linked to mental health and well-being because if you’re not fully there, your headspace is not in the work in front of you, you’re more likely to get injured. And if you’re not connected to the work or understanding the things that are impacting them today, you’re more likely to see somebody actually get physically injured as well. But again, as you said, it tends to be wellbeing, done somewhere in HR, safety, done somewhere in the safety organization, as opposed to trying to connect those dots.

Well, even worse than that, I’ve seen HR maybe be mostly female-led, and then the front-line staff perhaps being mostly male or have a different demographic. It’s like listening to your people and communicating messages that… Because I’ve literally seen posters that were purple and flowers and pink and yoga poses, and you’re just not reaching the demographic and the language that’s going to make sense to them. It’s like these little tweaks to help it feel real. Do you want to spend time with your family? What’s the legacy you want to leave? What do you want to be proud of? The financial cost of living crisis is impacting people. How do we make it real? I’m hearing a lot of like, oh, we’ve got these old school people in our industry, or we’ve got people who just don’t get it. I love getting in a room with people who just don’t get it because you will very quickly find that if you talk about your own struggles and then you open up a floor that normalizes this and isn’t just like, hey, are you crazy? There’s so much stigma. They’re just normal. Hey, we’ve all been through a pandemic.

We’ve all been through the cost of living or whatever challenges. Very quickly, those people who just don’t get it will start opening up about the stuff going on for them. Now we’ve got a connection point to build from.  

Absolutely. Petra, thank you very much for sharing your story and for talking about your book, Begin with You. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Linkedin is where I am the most active and put out loads of free content and resources, but my website as well, petravelzeboer.com, you can see everything that we do and reach me there as well.

Excellent. Thank you so much.

Thanks so much.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Petra Velzeboer is a renowned mental health expert, TEDx speaker, and CEO of mental health consultancy PVL. Her captivating story of being raised in a cult, paired with her down-to-earth nature and unique perspective on the world of work, helps her to relate to audiences on a level that few therapists can. Petra’s unique approach to the future of work sets human capital at the forefront of innovation for any company.

For more information: https://www.petravelzeboer.com/

Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Begin-You-Invest-Wellbeing-Satisfaction/dp/1398610313/ref=sr_1_1?crid=YZGVLIYLDCK&keywords=petra+velzeboer&qid=1692791799&sprefix=%2Caps%2C86&sr=8-1

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Aviation Case Study: Cultivating a Just Culture and Supportive Peer Assistance Program with Charles Curreri

Aviation Case Study Cultivating a Just Culture and Supportive Peer Assistance Program

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Charlie Curreri, retired Air Force F16 pilot and American Airlines Airbus 320 Captain as well as founder and developer of Project Wingman, makes a special appearance on The Safety Guru this week! With his keen insight and extensive research, Charlie has discovered the great need for peer-to-peer hotlines in the aviation industry and has taken action by creating and continuing to develop Project Wingman into a safe place for pilots to seek necessary help. Don’t miss this insightful journey with Charlie as he navigates us through an aviation case study emphasizing the importance of creating a just culture and the profound impact that supportive peer assistance programs continue to have on the aviation industry. Tune in and prepare for take-off!

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now. Hi, and welcome to The Safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Charles Curreri. He’s a retired captain from American Airlines. He’s also the founder of Project Wingman. Charlie, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me today. Honored to be here, Eric. So, Charles, why don’t you share a little bit of background in terms of what is Project Wingman? Because Project Wingman is quite unique, had significant success at American Airlines and is a role model in terms of interventions in other organizations and in the airline industry. So, why don’t we start with a bit of an introduction to what it was and how you got into Project Wingman? Eric, in a nutshell, Project Wingman is a pilot to pilot peer assist program for pilots and their families. It was established in June of 2011. We were running an EAP program from the Union side at the Allied Pilot Association, we realized that there was a gap in pilots seeking mental health care from a stigma perspective or a lack of knowledge. Sadly, though, we had six suicides in a period of eight months, and then we realized as a group of us that we needed a 24 7 hotline for pilots only and their family members to possibly mitigate these issues. And so, what we did, eight of us, I was met with the senior leadership of American Airlines and also with the Allied Pilot Association. We brainstormed for like five hours in a closed-door meeting with many medical professionals, American Union professionals, counselors. And I spearheaded the meeting. And at the end of the day, we decided that we needed to develop a 24 7pilot mental health hotline. And it came about in June of 2011. It did not morph much quickly into the robust program it is today because we didn’t have the foundation, the horsepower from the company side. What happened was a very senior Czech airman, Evaluator Pilot, took his own life, September 2011. And that precipitated scrutiny by the American Airlines flight leadership. They thought, well, one of our own could do this to themselves. We must have a problem. And so, we met with the company leadership in the flight department and brainstormed about what we should do in terms of advertising, marketing, and getting to the forefront of pilot mental health care. And so, what the company did was hire me at that point to be a full time, inhouse senior manager, Project Wingman, to assist in having pilots get help they needed through the flight department. It did not mitigate the union. It was a collaborative effort between the company and the union. And that’s the beauty of it all, is that the organization has buy in to pilot mental health care, and the union has bought in to pilot mental health care. So, you have this very unique collaboration, both sides of the aisle, to ensure that pilots are getting the necessary care they needed without jeopardizing their medicals. So, we’ll get into some of the specifics, but there’s no industry that’s probably more focused on safety than aviation. So, tell me a little bit about the link between mental health, wellbeing, and safety. It’s a very connectedness with that link. And the word we’ve been using, and it’s been used a lot in the last 15 years, is just culture. Right now, in the aviation industry, you know just culture, pretty much no harm, no foul, unless you do something egregiously wrong, violating SOPs or federal guidelines. But just culture in a mental health sense is this. If you have a problem, you can be assured that we will do everything we can to keep it confidential and ensure that you retain your Aero medical certificate at all costs. Now, obviously, there is going to be those small outliers that the pilots are undergoing significant psychological impairment. But we found, and the research is showing this, and I’m finishing my doctorate on this, is that an organization and a union that collaborate and create a just culture for self disclosure and mental health issues is a safer environment. And for example, the FAA has a well-established program, and all their lines have this called an ASAP program. And you know what that is. And so, we look at Project Winged as a mental health ASAP program. You call the hotline, and you will get the help you need to get you safely back home. Now, there are some caveats. If you’re a threat to yourself or somebody else, and that’s always brought to the surface immediately at the beginning of the conversation, because that has to be reported. And that’s obviously for the safety of the flying public and for the safety of the air crew member. But very rarely is it’s one in a million. We don’t get that phone call, really. But we do get the normal average everyday stuff. And so, we want to ensure the pilots understand that normal everyday mental health issues are going to be okay to report to yourself and to your counselor because we’ll mitigate that. It will be a covering for you. It will be a just culture for you. And it’s been amazing. All the chief pilots, from the Vice President of flight on down to the youngest chief pilot all knows that Project Women is a safe place to go to get help. And so, it’s worked. So, you talked about the importance of it being peer based. Tell me a little bit more because I’m a huge advocate. I’ve seen that in the aviation space. I think if it’s EAP, traditional EAP program, you don’t get the same coverage, same level of support. Tell me about how that peer base really helped penetrate to make it something that was accepted across pilots. It’s a great question. I’ve done some research on this over the last two years. One of the things I’ve learned is that only about 4 % of corporate America utilize EAP 4 %. However, some studies have shown an average of 22 % of the workforce will call a peer-to-peer hotline. Wow. They will seek peer support. Now, here’s why. The biggest reason is mutual experience. You get me. For example, let’s think about a police officer. This is a study done in London, study done in Britain with police officers. And in Toronto, two studies have showed that a very small percentage of the police officers were called the company EAP or the Union EAP. But when they established the peer support, it almost rose by eight times. And so, we know this because of one, mutual experience. You get me, you understand the job. You know the grind, you know the threats out there, you know the danger of it all. You know the coming in, going out. You know the long nights, long trips, three-day, four day trips across the ocean. And you know our personality profile. That’s one. Neutral experience. Number two, reciprocity. Recip means that you and I both share the same power balance. Pilots are reluctant to go to a team leader because they don’t want to relinquish power. When you go to a counselor, you are putting that counselor above you in terms of power balance. He or she holds the cards, pretty much. So, pilots believe that. But when you call a pilot, reciprocity means we get each other in neutral experience. Also, there’s not a power imbalance. You’re no threat to me because you get me. You understand me and trust. Third thing is trust. They found over in Britain; they did a study on trauma risk management. And they found, once they developed this robust peer program for the police officers, and then the supervisors, their phone call use went up 80 % in one year. Wow. Substantial. They went to a peer led crisis hotline type; peer led evidence based crisis hotline. So, we know the data is out there. I know that I could quote military data, I can quote police data, I can quote other stuff, but we don’t know much about pilots yet, and that’s where my research is coming right now. So mutual experience, reciprocity, trust, big three. Which makes good sense. Right. So, those are the big three reasons why I think peer support. And I’m sure there’s others, but those are my big three right there. And so how did you go about getting pilots to sign up to get trained to do it? I’m sure that it was not an overnight, lots of volunteers. Tell me a little bit about how you were able to secure interests and get them ready for this experience. Let’s go back to the history of it. I picked five initial quadrate people back in June of 2011. Well, they would work with me a little bit on EAP stuff, but we had no hotline. I picked my five eight best people and we trained for a week. We gave a 40-hour course. I developed a syllabus for peer support training. I have two master’s degree in counseling and I’m a PhD candidate. But I realized from my military experience, administrative wise, being a general executive officer and my flying experience, that we needed key people. And there’s a whole bunch of reasons why I picked these people. But one was skill sets. I mean, are you a good listener? Are you compassionate? Are you competent? Can you handle a crisis? Are you engaging? Are you trustworthy? Will you hold confidentiality? Do you get along with the flight office? Do you get along with your peers in the Union? It’s a whole person concept. And those are certain core competencies we knew we needed among the initial quadrants. Then we spent two and a half days together. We talked about listening skill sets, ethics. We covered a lot about ethics, risk management, suicide prevention. That’s a whole 18 hours block right there because in the airlines, we always train to the most egregious emergency. So, we want to train people to be confident in a phone call that warrants suicide prevention mitigation. So, it’s a pretty intense two and a half day course. They came in, we initially quadrated, we spent time together, we laughed, we had lunch, and then we did a lot of role-playing case studies. So, we put a pilot next to a pilot at a table and pretend you’re on the phone. And I give the case scenario on the board on PowerPoint and now handle the case. So, we had low, medium, high, high threats. And so, we talked about that a lot. So that’s a whole, probably about six hours on case study and role playing. I don’t have the syllabus in front of me, but I know there’s other things we talked about, safety culture, self-compassion, taking care of yourself, burnout, fatigue, those things. So, it’s about eight courses, plus an 18 hour online course that the government has for suicide prevention. And then once you are through the course, you were assigned a mentor. In the early days, I was a mentor, obviously. But once our group got to about six months, then as we added more people, then the senior peer support volunteers became mentors. So, you would come out of the training and then you would start many of the phones during your block of days. And then if you had any problems, you call your mentor. And every call, typically, you would call your mentor, anyhow, to debrief to make sure everything was covered, and the pilot got the help he needed. So, it was a lot of oversight. Plus, some of the phone calls are traumatizing some people and they needed to debrief it. I’m sure. Or the mentor would step in and call the pilot or the family member to just ensure they had the right care. So, a lot of oversight. Sure. The training is pretty intense. And we have had some people come to training and finish and go, I’m not cut out for this. Do you understand that. There are some people who came to training who thought they were cut out for it, but the leadership of the team would boot them off the team, not boot them, but say, this is not a good fit for you. But that developed a lot of trust among the union representatives, union leadership, and then the flight department leadership. So, when a project agreement volunteer would engage the flight department, they would understand that this person calling was vetted and we could trust them. So, a lot of trust between the flight department and the union representation. That’s the key. And how important was it to get the palette association so that the union at the table and partner? Because all the examples I’ve heard are generally a joint partnership between the Union and leadership for this to work well. Tell me a little bit about how that came together and also the criticality of that step. Well, one of the things I did once we started EAP and then morphed into Project Wingman was, I went around on a base tour. I would leave Dews twice a month. I’d go to New York, the domiciles to meet with the chief pilots. Every month, it’s called a HIMS meeting, Human Intervention Motivation Study meeting, which is the code word for pilots and recovery. If you’re in a substance abuse program banded by FAA, you must go to monthly meetings with your chief pilot and you need representation. And normally, those meetings had about 10 to 12 pilots each month in the domicile. So, I went to those meetings to get to know people, the union leadership in that base, and the company leadership at that base. And I did that for about three months. And then when women started going more visibly, then I engage the flight department and the union base reps. Every domicile has a base representative, there’s two, the chair and vice chair. So, I get to know them also. And the team, as members came on board project women, I made sure that you must meet with the chief pilots and you must get to know your Union representatives at that base because you’re the conduit, you’re the guy and the girl in the middle. They’re going to look to you to help. They will call you at night if they have to. Chiefs will call you. Union reps will call you because they trust you and they want to know who’s in their base anyhow. So, we made sure that we did at least three representatives at each dome on Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, and so forth. Right now, I believe Project Women Now is about 40 representations, 40 support volunteers. Well, quite a growth from your initial five or eight now. Yeah. And so, the collaboration really came when I started on the Union side. So, in the fall of 2011, the Vice President of flight came to me and I met with him in his office, along with the Union Senior Vice President of the Union, to talk about bringing me on board into the flight department right inside the building where all the training is done, where all those pilots come through every year. So now that gave us the horsepower, that gave us the visibility, and that gave us the capital collaboration because now I was on loan from the Union to the company side. Even though I was a Union rep, I was quasi management. And that’s where we took off. Now we developed videos, and you should see some of the videos we made early on. It’s pretty amazing. Magnets of human factors training. We were handling… Everybody saw video every year, emotionally heart wrenching video about people hurting and got helped. So, we became a big marketing. We marketed mental health care. And here’s the thing, Eric, ready for this? And I run the International Pilot Peer assist Coalition 501 C in the United States, but it’s international. We had a conference in November in London. A hundred and something people showed up. It was amazing. While listening, talking to all the airline representatives throughout the world, we were the only ones who have a full-time paid pilot, staff, volunteer and management, senior manager running project women for the company side and collaborating with the Union. Wow. And most airlines don’t have that collaboration. So, the guy, the pilot took my place, the master level clinician, great man, but he works closely with all the senior leaders in the flight department and the Union. And he mitigates a lot of the flight red tape. So, it’s amazing. And people are still shocked. So, you have a company of women, senior manager, project women in the company side. And all I say to them is this, think of the military. Project Wingman person in the flight department is the command chaplain. He works for the four stars. And all the four-star cares about how can I help my people? And all the wingman manager says, I need your help. Money, resources, videos, time. That’s the huge benefit. And other airlines, nobody in the world does it that way. Interesting. It’s pretty amazing. I’ve asked many of the airlines if they would gravitate towards that, and they still have not done it. The reason why it’s so important to do that, because now you get the horsepower in the flight department, and now you’re inside human fact, you’re embedded into the culture. So, here’s my thought. When you’re embedded in collaborating, you will shift how pilots view mental health care. It’s important. It’s important for their mental health and well-being. It’s important for the safety of the airline. This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com. We’ve talked before, you have a lot of amazing examples, successes that came out of Project Wingman. Are you able to share a few examples that give a little bit of a sense of how impactful Wingman is? I’m going to tell you two stories that are tied together in a bizarre way. I could tell you hundreds, but these two stood up because of what they did at the end. So, we had two cases, two separate cases. The first case was a man whose wife dropped the divorce papers, a pilot. Early one morning, he thought she went out to call for some girlfriends. But an hour later, the sheriff shows up with papers. He snaps. Snaps is not a nervous breakdown. He emotionally has a heart attack. So, he leaves the house in tears. And he has a weapon in his car. So, he’s driving away from his home. He calls the chief pilot of New York City. They know each other. So, he explains to him what’s going on. He’s crying and notifies the chief he has a weapon. So, the chief gets on, calls me, three-way call. We’re talking and he’s driving around this town. It’s a very big town in a big city. He hangs up. Now we’re worried. So, we got the police involved. The son called us. We figured out the car. And three hours later, they found him in a parking lot of some shopping center. And the police graciously went to the car, got him out of the car. He was very grateful, took the weapon, and brought him to a local hospital, very well-known hospital in his town. And when they got there, the police called me and said, this is where he’s at. So, I called. When I called them, I talked to the intake representative and explained to their pilot. Long story short, we made sure they did not diagnose him in a way that puts him permanently out of the car. At risk. Right. So, what happened was he went through the process. He was grounded for about over a year, did all the mental health work that the FA mandated. The good news, too, when in the hospital, he was in there for 10 days. They had 15 psychiatric interns at that major hospital, and they never had a pilot before. So, he got extraordinary care for those 10 days by the way. And again, the case manager worked closely with the Union representation, the head nurse there, and with Project Wingman, me. And then a year and a half later, he got his medical and came to the schoolhouse for training. Now, hold that story. Same time frame, one of our pilots, our captains, got almost fired for acting inappropriately in a hotel. I’ll leave it at that. And the major reported him, no chart to file, but he was sent back home off the trip and saw the chief pilot had a big section hearing, a disciplinary hearing, and we were talking, him and I, between those, that hearing. And he tells me this very in-depth story of addiction, sexual addiction. And so, I just said, become clean. And he did. And the company was going to terminate him for inappropriate sexual behavior. But nobody filed charges. He didn’t hurt anybody. And long story, he went to care, went to the world’s major leading sex addiction therapist, Dr. Patrick Karnes, whom I know, and got the help he needed. So, he’s out for a year and a half also. So, these two are running parallel recovery courses. And guess what? They got the medicals back and they go to training together. How do I know that? So, I’m in the building, I’m in my office, and the captain finishes his four-day training and gets his license back, his airline transport pilot ticket back as a 737 captain. He’s so excited. He comes by my office and he’s like, Wow, I’m so happy. Project Wingman and the nurse team at APA took care of me, gave me the right advice. They covered me. And I’m so grateful to Project Wingman for help saving my career. So glad for you. So, the next guy comes in, the first officer, his first officer comes in 10 minutes later. Listen to his story. He goes, Charlie, we’re so grateful for Project Wingman. You saved my career in the hospital. When I had the weapon, I thought I could fly again. But Project Wingman and the nurse team at Union and you guys covered me and you made sure I did all the right things in last year. And look at me, I got my license back. I am so excited. I said, Wait a second. You just finished your check ride 20 minutes ago? Right. Who are you with? And he tells me the name. I go, Huh? You’re just in my office. And he goes, Was it? Yeah. I go, I can’t believe you’re two in the same training syllabus together for four days. And can you tell me why he was out? Can you tell me what he said? He said, oh, he had a back problem. I said, what did you say? Oh, I had a heart issue. But I laugh at that because they didn’t want to self-disclose what happened. And I don’t blame them. But the good news is that they follow the protocol. Project Wingman mitigate a lot of the barriers that sometimes are in place with pilot self-reporting. The FAA did their due diligence, and we made sure, along with the Union representation, that they both got the proper care, proper documentation, proper medical evaluations, psychiatric evaluations. And they are right now enjoying a very robust career. I’m friends on Facebook with both of them. And it’s amazing seeing them fly around the world. It’s amazing. So, you touched on such an important point, which is around the element of just culture. In both of those stories, if things had not gone well, they could have lost their license to fly, which is a huge part of the identity of being a pilot is to be able to fly. Tell me why that’s so critical. Because some people would say, something happened, we need to address it. There needs to be consequence. Unless you do something illegal, I know for sure the company I work for was not going to punish you. Telling the truth is always forefront on our mind. Always ethically tell the truth to the company, tell the truth to the union, and we can help you out. So back to your point. Why is it important to self-disclose? If you are having symptoms of a heart attack, numbness in your left side, chest pain, thumping in your chest, racing heartbeat, sweating, you would not just sit there and write it out. You would have someone driving the hospital call 911. So, the same premise. If you’re having a major depressive episode for the weeks on end, there’s no sense in just sitting that thing through. We know this for a fact because several of our… We know for a fact for several of the pilots I knew, worked their funerals, visited their families, were suffering quietly for months on end, severe depression symptoms, and mitigating it by calling in sick a lot. Sure. So, my point is that it’s easier to say I have an earache than a heartache, but we wanted to reduce the barrier to say it’s okay to self-disclose a mental health problem because there’s a safe place to go and safe place to come back to. Let us be a safe culture for you, whether it be the flight department side or the union side. Now the pilots are understanding that if I go to my wingman volunteer, he or she’s going to get me the help to the union side and the company side that I need, time off, vacation, whatever I need. And they’re not going to ask any questions. All they’re going to ask is this, how can we help this pilot? That’s the key. Because everybody knows that the psychological well-being of a pilot and investment into a pilot’s career is a monetary wise to want to cost replace the pilot. It’s well worth the investment to help this pilot get safely back into the cockpit. We want him or her back. That’s the financial investment. So where are we going to go from here? Down the future lies that organizations throughout this country, particularly the United States, airlines in particular, major airlines, even the regional carriers, I hope would start really moving towards a robust, just culture for pilot, pure assist programs. It’s good for the pilots, good for the airlines. It’ll save money. So, I had a major executive at a major airline when I lectured them one day for three hours. They brought me in to New York, and he asked the question, what does a pilot peer support save a company? Financially, what money we’re looking at when you invested? I said, About a billion dollars. I heard a pen drop. I said, Sir, God forbid you have a pilot flying in an airplane who shouldn’t be flying, and bad things happen, and a lot of people get killed. It’ll cost you a billion dollars. And sadly, we saw that down the road, German wings. And I was on the panel up in Washington. I was in five working groups and listened to testimonies and listened to experts and 50 members that were in that ARC Aviation Committee. And I heard the stories. And that’s why the FAA did not, to their credit, mandate EAP programs or pilot peer support programs back in 2015. Europeans did. The European equivalent FAA said every airline will have a peer support program on property federally overseen. Got that? Sure. There’s federal oversight in European Union. In the US right now, there’s not. And I hint to airlines, you better do this now because it’s going to come down the road later. It’s good for the pilots. It’s good for your airline. It’s well worth every cent you put in. So that’s where we’re at. That’s my vision to bring this to the forefront through my center for aviation mental health. Com and through IPAC is to educate market peer support and private well-being. It’s a way to the future. I mean, there’s no way out of it. Peer support is a way to the future. It is. I think your story at American Airlines clearly illustrates it, but it also applies to other industries I’ve heard for fire fighters, for whichever industry. I’ve heard cases as well. And utility workers where there’s similar peer support groups, all hugely successful, much more than any AP programs. I think it’s something to look at and hopefully something that does get expanded to other airlines. And even I don’t know if it has been expanded to other crews, like non flight crews, other employees at American Airlines, because that’s the other element is its different investment, but the same issues can happen everywhere on the wrap. It’s funny you say that Ronny, actually, because we’ve been talking about this now that I’m retired since I run International Pilot Appearances Coalition. Europeans are on board with me. We have a team of advisors, and we are slowly branching out to flight attendants, mechanics, crew chiefs, and air traffic controllers. Yeah, all important. So, we might rename it International Aviation pure assistance coalition. So, we’re looking at all that right now. But in the United States, my last airline, we tried several times to bring on board the flight attendants, but we could not get enough traction and buy in from their side, even though I met with the Senior VP, the Vice President of the flight attendants, Fleet Services. So again, my former airline is doing it well. They’re the model. So, I’m here now just trying to educate other airlines or even universities. I’m going to speak next week of a major university, their cadet program, they asked me to come up and speak about mental health and pilots. They had very little knowledge about ins and outs of mental health care among pilots, AMEs, FAA. So, they asked me to come up and lecture April 20th. So, I’m going to go up there for a couple of days, spend time with a bunch of cadets. That’s where I think you make your money. Initial Cadre, pilot, cadets, early on get buying to mental health care. So, Charlie. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, for sharing your perspective. You’ve done some great work at American Airlines. I hope it inspires others to explore a similar program. I think there’s a lot of good learnings. You mentioned your website. If somebody wants more details in terms of what was done, what was that the website? It’s C, Charles… So, it’s C 4, the number 4 AMH.com. C4AMH.com. Excellent. Thank you so much, Charles, for joining us and sharing your perspective. Thanks for. Thank you for your time, Eric. Listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams, elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

CA Charlie Curreri is a retired American Airlines Airbus 320 Captain and a retired Air Force, combat decorated F16 pilot. He has an MA in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and MA in Counseling from Colorado Christian University, and in the dissertation phase of a PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at Grand Canyon University. He was founder and developer of Project Wingman, a pilot peer support program at American Airlines and the Allied Pilots Association in 2011. He is a licensed professional counselor in the State of Texas, a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP) and a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). In addition, he is Director of the Center for Aviation Mental Health (CAMH) and Chairman of the International Pilot Peer Assist Coalition (IPPAC). He has been married for over 36 years and has 6 children and 7 grandchildren.

For more information: https://c4amh.com/

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Mind Matters: The Crucial Link Between Mental Health, Psychosocial Risks, and Workplace Safety with Anna Feringa

Mind Matters: The Crucial Link Between Mental Health, Psychosocial Risks, and Workplace Safety

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In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re very excited to feature Anna Feringa, expert in leadership and Mental Health and best practices in workplace Mental Health, on the podcast this week. “No one can be 100% safe in any workplace if they’re not healthy both mind and body.” When an individual is not well in their mind, they’re more inclined to make poor decisions resulting in more physical injuries and human error in the workplace. Tune in as Anna emphasizes the crucial link between mental health, psychosocial risks, and workplace safety. Discover insightful strategies for mitigating these risks within your organization to reduce injury and cultivate a positive workplace culture.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Today, I am very excited to have a great guest on our show. Her name is Anna Feringa. She’s a workplace mental health consultant with a background in organizational psychology, has been in the field for well over 18 years. She’s also a global top 10 LinkedIn voice of 2022 and a leading expert in mental health. Very good to have you on the show today. I’d love to get started maybe with a bit of a background as to how did you get passionate about this space, mental health, and we’ll obviously talk about mental health and safety.

Thanks, Eric. It’s absolute pleasure to be on and a very warm welcome to all of our listeners. Thank you for joining us. Look, the field of workplace mental health, it’s a pretty hot topic now.

Yes.

18 years ago, not so much. But particularly in Australia, it’s become certainly top of policy, forefront of mind. But how I got into it, it’s a really interesting question, Eric. I went through university with these grandiose ideas of becoming a criminal psychologist and spent a lot of time in our glorious Australian prisons and so forth, had an absolute ball, but looked at all the psychologists around me that were 30 years my senior, and I’m like, they were just completely devoid of emotion. And I’m like, I want to be able to feel empathy in 30 years, so I’m going to switch. And I ended up going into the personal injury field. And what that means, because it’s quite a conflated topic, what that means here in Australia is I was working in the field of both post motor vehicle accident and workplace injuries. So having a look at all the types of particular mental conditions, psychological conditions that can result after being exposed to trauma. Sure. So that led me down a lot of years in the insurance path, personal injury, regulatory explorations, legislation, or the very thin legislation that existed in Australia at the time. 

And I just spat out at the end as a bit of a mixed bucket of knowledge. And I’m like, Right, well, rather than responding to injuries once they’ve occurred, particularly in the workplace, what’s going on in the prevention space? And there was this massive gap, and there still is this massive gap. So that’s what keeps me very busy as a workplace mental health consultant is getting in and working with workplaces to help them firstly understand what it means and also the benefits and consequences of either proactively engaging in good mental health and good work design or not. So, it is one of the leading causes of disability across the globe. It is costing the globe in excess of $6 trillion a year in lost productivity, injury recovery expenses, turnover, you name it. So, it’s a really big industry for making sure that workplaces have more knowledge and better structure around how to keep their people safer whilst they do their role.

Excellent. Great segue into first theme I’d like to touch on, which is mental health is not separate from safety. So, can you expand in terms of the linkage? Because a lot of organizations look at mental health on one side in HR, and then they’ll have safety separately looking at how do I prevent injuries. Tell me a little bit about the link between both.

Yeah, sure. Firstly, if someone could take their brain out of their body and sit it next to them and go, this is a separate entity to my body, then that’s my first linkage, Eric, is no one can be 100 % safe in any workplace if they’re not healthy, both mind and body. So, it is absolutely a safety issue. For far too long, and it continues to be, it’s been, Okay, let’s keep everyone physically safe. Let’s invest in education. Let’s make sure that there’s a bunch of liability around keeping someone physically safe. But this whole wellness of the mind piece, we’ll just chuck some yogurt at them and maybe a few fruit boxes and call them a benefit. But if you at any stage get depressed or anxious at work, it’s really got nothing to do with us. We just hope that you make the right decisions whilst you continue to decline in your cognitive abilities. And we efficiently refer to it as psychosocial ergonomics. And that is, if someone’s not well in the mind for whatever reason, they’re more inclined to make poor decisions, which is resulting in physical injuries and human error. So, they are absolutely linked.

A fruit box and a resilience training session is not working. And I challenge anyone to show me the evidence that it is working. And when I say working, I mean, it is not preventing injury. It’s simply just helping them recover and then chucking staff back into the fryer pan where they got injured in the first place. So, it’s like this vicious little cycle of, we’ll fix you, but we won’t change the environment. So, with physical safety, if something is allegedly going to cause someone harm, then workplaces jump to it. They fix it. They assess how things can be done differently. Whereas we’re not there with mental health yet. We’re 30 years behind where physical safety is. But if we don’t treat mental health along the same hierarchy as safety, then we’re going to see a lot more people become very ill. We’re going to see companies go backwards, both in ROI and reputation, and basically fail to be enterprise ready for the future. So, this is a big thing. And it absolutely is safety. And until it’s recognized as safety, people are going to be falling at the forefront of poor mental health and workplaces and suffering the consequences for it. And I think from what you’re sharing, and I definitely see data to that effect, when you’ve got people that are… If you’re not addressing the wellbeing, the mental health component, you’re also going to have more workplace injuries. So, it’s also a way to get to the next plateau of injury reduction.

Absolutely. You’ve just nailed it, Eric. There’s no other way to explain it. Healthy people work better, are better, perform better. And when I say perform, look, it’s great to hit targets, but it’s also great to come home safely. And every employer really has the responsibility to keep their employees safe to the point where it’s reasonable and practicable, of course. We don’t have a silver bullet for everyone. And there’s things beyond employer’s controls. But at this stage, nothing’s really in place anywhere. So, there’s efforts, there’s intentions. A lot of workplaces are well intended, but we’re still waiting our way through what really works. And I’m sure that you and I’ll branch out into that later. But it is a very infantile space, but yet such an urgent one.

Absolutely. So, you’ve touched on the value of addressing mental health from the trillions that are being lost. You’ve touched on the impact on physical safety. What else can we add to the case for mental health focus in a workplace?

There are bucket loads. I guess the question is, do you want to talk about the consequences, or do you want to talk about the benefits? Because there’s plenty of both. I guess I’ll just start with the benefits, and that is, if you’re people working in a well-designed role, it all really comes down to work design. And that is the bit that freaks companies out. And I mean that respectfully to our listeners. And that’s a lot of work to do. We can’t revaluate how work is done. It’s just too much of a disruption to the business. So, my response to that is, can everyone just take a look at what companies did two years ago? For a pandemic, we literally flipped companies on their heads in two seconds to keep production happening and to keep people safe. So, companies are really running out of excuses with the no budget, no time, no resources to revaluate how work is done to keep you safer because your staff have seen you do it. And so, one of the consequences is that staff will simply move on to another employer where they feel safer. And that’s why we’ve got the great resignation sweeping the globe, because people have realized they don’t really have to stay.

There are exceptional circumstances, of course. If I don’t have to stay in a place that I hate or that I feel unsafe in, or that I’m working in a role that is burning me out and no one’s doing anything about it because they have the attitude that, well, that’s just always the way it’s always been done. If you can’t do it, there’s the door. The benefit of investing in this area is you’re going to get better talent acquisition. You’re going to get better people that are a better job fit. You’re going to get people that work well for you. And if you’re not prepared in this industry, then buckle up because you’re going to get a bunch of people that are not going to be fit for your role. Your personal injury or compensation claims, depending on what scheme you’re under, are going to skyrocket. Your culture is going to suffer, which is going to impact your bottom line, which is going to cost you money anyway. So, it’s about investing a little to save a lot. So, the benefits are you will be competitive. You’ll have better people. You will have higher production. You will have less injuries.

You will have a better culture. And that all really serves, with a bunch of evidence base, to suggest that that’s what good work looks like.

We’ll dive into the topic of work design soon because I think it’s important for listeners to understand what it means. But before we go there, one topic that is emerging definitely in Australia, it’s starting to emerge in other locations is the concept of psychosocial risk. Can you tell me more? What is it? Big words, but a lot of people still haven’t heard of it.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s become legislation in Australia, Eric, and half the people still don’t know what it means. It’s actually in our basic fundamental laws now, and people are like, what does psychosocial mean? So basically, what psychosocial risk is, is anything that could potentially cause you a mental injury or mental harm. Okay. So, it’s like you and I walking on a mine site, and a particular pathway to an open cut mine has not been clearly identified. Therefore, the risk to you and I, Eric, is one of us is likely to become injured. So psychosocial risk is anything that in the course of work, or in the course of the environment, or in the course of interpersonal activity between people, coworkers, managers, staff, that can cause someone to become mentally harmed. But then I’m a very big stickler for terms. And again, I sat on a round table last night. And again, what we had to do is clean up language. So, people are using psychosocial risk and psychological safety as one term. They are absolutely fundamentally related but to different contract. So psychosocial risk is anything throughout the course of employment, interpersonal, environmental that can harm you.

Psychological safety is creating a workplace where people feel safe enough to voice their opinion, raise risk without fear of retribution. So, you can’t have one without the other. You need to clean up your psychosocial risks before you can achieve what I call the pinnacle or the oracle, and that is a psychologically safe workplace. So psychosocial risk really is just like a physical safety risk, but it relates to the mind.

So, what are some of the mitigating factors that organizations can explore? Because this is a fairly broad definition of a risk in terms of everything that could harm you. It’s quite broad.

It is. And it’s also very subjective. So, I guess, and again, this is such an infantile space. So I’d love to turn around and go, here’s A to Z mitigation strategies. Eric, here they are. Like, globe, please learn them. But in Australia, we’re understanding the concept that, okay, it is now in our work health safety legislation that employers need to be proactive in mitigating risk. And everyone’s just looking at each other going, Okay, great laws, but how do we do that exactly? So, we’re seeing this area of psychosocial risk assessments starting to emerge. And there’s good ones and there’s not so good ones, as with any new concept that’s been born. So, I guess one of the mitigating factors would be to pick up one of these psychosocial risk assessments. And there’s many of them. I would just plug it into Google and see what comes up, because it’s going to vary from country to country. I can make some great recommendations in Australia, but I’m not here to do that today. So, what that means for our listeners is you need to talk to your people and ask them, what is your risk tolerance? If you’re working in retail and getting abused up team times a day, sure, there’s a factor in there that we can’t necessarily control.

But what are we doing afterwards? I mean, if you’re working in emergency services, you’re going to see a lot of trauma. We can’t necessarily control that. But what we can control is how much access are they getting? How much exposure are they getting? How can we control that and rotate that? How are we checking in on our people to make sure that they’re coping? How are we monitoring appropriate leave and downtime and debriefing? Or has all of that become automated? So, step one, consider a psychosocial risk assessment. Within those risk assessments, people are consulted anyway. But there’s other ways you can talk to your people. And thirdly, you need to make sure that your leaders are, in some shape, way, or form, provided the skill to be able to have a conversation with their team and their people. So firstly, they need to understand what psychosocial risk is before they can inquire about it with their people in a safe and protected way. So, we can’t really mitigate risks that we don’t know are there. And the best way to identify risk is by talking to people, talking to staff, going, What’s tolerable? What’s not tolerable?

How’s the role designed? Do you have any suggestions about the way it can be done better? Because that’s where a lot of, particularly, Australian companies are finding or farming the gold is, wow, our staff that we press play on every day actually have some pretty great ideas about how we can better improve some of y our social safety. So definitely risk assessments, definitely staff consultation in whatever form, focus groups, the good old survey. Companies tend to eye roll a little bit around surveys, but it’s important that however you can gather that information because that’s where you’ll start to identify gaps and that’s where you’ll start to identify risk. Sure. Like you said before, Eric, it is a really complex field because it’s subjective. So what a lot of organizations are doing is gathering what the main risks are. So, there might be some outliers of people getting stressed for different reasons. But okay, a lot of our staff in this division are burnt out for this reason. Well, let’s just have a look at this reason, not 50 million different reasons as to why I’m burnt out. If there’s a theme or a pattern, if you like, they’re chunking it down that way.

But it’s a long process. It’s not going to happen overnight. And a good risk assessment isn’t just done once. It’s a continuous improvement. They run regularly. But I guess the next battle is, Okay, we’ve run a risk assessment, therefore, we can prove that we’re risk adverse. Well, no, because a lot of companies misconstrue the fact of assessment as intervention. When you get that information, you got to do stuff with it, right?

You have to. It’s no different than safety culture assessment. You’re assessing where you’re at to understand your themes, and then you build a strategy to execute, and then you retest. Have I made a difference?

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, probably to soothe our listeners as well, because I’m probably making this sound very complicated. And the world of psychology is not linear. But if you’re a safety professional listening today, it really is just approaching psychosocial risk in a way that’s very, very similar to the way we’ve practiced physical safety. It is about consult. It’s about identified. It’s about analyzed. It’s about responded. It’s about a value weight. It’s about change. And then it’s about repeat. So, you really don’t have to look at psychosocial safety as a completely different construct with how we mitigate. A lot of the themes that are coming through, particularly here in Australia, is the more similar you can keep it to physical safety, you’re on your way.

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

You touched on an approach around work design, and I think work design is key. You alluded to a few examples, I think, in terms of the rotation of if I’m dealing with certain critical stressors that maybe I’m rotating through it. I’m not spending the entire day dealing with it. Tell me more about what that could look like in terms of the work design, because I agree with you, work can be redesigned. We’ve proved it a few years ago when everybody went remote.

Absolutely. So, it absolutely can be done. The reason why it’s not now is because of just the perceived complexity. I mean, you and I could tease apart 50 million roles and what that looks like, but that’s not why we’re here today. It’s basically to sell the message that your people will continue to perform half mask. Your people will continue to become mentally unwell in poorly designed roles. And when I say poorly designed, at one stage, they’ll probably wonderfully design roles. But like life, everything evolves. And so, it’s about designing work that’s good for people. And like anything, you need to get in there and have a look at the way roles are done. Because at the moment, what I’m seeing, and I call it your primary, secondary, and tertiary response. And we’ve got a bunch of employers, particularly in Australia and around the world, that are investing in the tertiary stuff. In Australia, we’ve got employee assistance programs, which is, Okay, works pretty much screwed you up. You’re pretty unwell. Here’s a number that you can call and talk to a clinical psychologist and get a little bit better. And then we’re going to chuck you back into that same role and just watch you reinjure.

Also, we’re going to bring in a keynote speaker that’s going to tell you about their journey of mental health, which absolutely has a place, but it’s not fixing the direct linear causal factor of why these people are becoming unwell. And that center around how work is done. I say they’re tursury interventions. They absolutely have a place, but they’re very reactionary, where primary is about prevention, and secondary is about early intervention, and tursury is about all the pure reactionary stuff that we do to help people. But the focus shouldn’t be on fixing people. The focus should be on revaluating and redesigning the environment, so we don’t really have people to fix. It really does mean work design really needs to sit squarely in the prevention area. And that’s where we’re going to see people really start to improve in their mental health, really start to work well, hang around with your company longer. You’re going to have fewer turnover costs. You’re going to have less, I call it the HR bottleneck, where people are tired, they’re burnt out. They’re working in roles that they don’t have a say in how it’s designed. They’re overworked, they’re under work, they’re exposed to trauma.

Well, how can we get in there and fix this up a little bit? And when was the last conversation at the board level around why this is important? Because money is important, competition and growth are important. Well, you need healthy people in order to help you do that into the future. So, it’s the key to growth, is healthy people.

But it’s interesting because as you share these examples, I’m also thinking that a lot of the work that’s designed is designed by process engineers, people that are really looking at how do I optimize, which often means how do I create an assembly line that repeats, repeats, repeats, which is not necessarily good for the well-being of people. But that tends to be how work gets redesigned, or in HR functions that start looking at org structure, which again, doesn’t look at the person, it looks at how do I do this more efficiently.  

Absolutely. And so that’s the new concept of work design, right? So, all of those structural and very talented people absolutely have a role in how work is done. But we need to make it almost trans disciplinary. And that is, okay, so here’s how the role can be done to its ultimate functionality. But what’s the impact on human health here? So, it really does need to be a trans disciplinary approach where you’ve got some people that are potentially upskilled in the psychosocial risk area and go, Okay, well, we can stick someone behind a conveyor belt for nine hours a day on repetition. So not only are they probably risking a repetitive strain injury, but they’re also going to become incredibly disengaged, which means they’re going to start underperforming, which means they’re going to start heading down the path of what poor mental health looks like. And I’m not necessarily diagnosing anyone because mental health is a spectrum, but everyone needs an engaged employee to make sure that their mind is well enough to continue to make good decisions. And again, that’s that direct link back to injury or poor performance, which frightens companies. So, when you’re looking at redesigning work, make sure you’ve got the right heads in the room that have a say, and not just make it about process, but make it about healthy functionality as well.

Because even if you strip back a process 20 %, which means, okay, great, we’re going to lose 20 % of our production. Well over the course of the year, your turnover rates are going to half. The employees that you do have are going to perform better, which means ultimately, what you’re designing here, you’re going to get anyway, if not double or triple that. You’re not going to be able to achieve that, what the structural engineer said, if you’re burning people out, not giving them appropriate respite, not actually giving them the value-add piece in giving them a say in how their roles are done, because you’re going to end up… We call it the financial proverbial bubble. It looks great and shiny and well designed in the beginning, but watch people drop off over time if we’re not considering human health factors in the initial stages of how we design work.

Absolutely. So, you touched on the importance of the board’s involvement in executives. Let’s double click on that one.

Yeah. Well, that’s the biggest barrier because it’s getting a bit easier in Australia because they have to do it now. It’s not just a value add. The last 18 years in the field, Eric, I call it 16 years of convincing, and now it’s law. Well, however it gets in the building, I don’t really care, to be honest, because I know that people are going to benefit from it. But boards and trusts and executives or C suite or whatever terminology you want to bring to it. Look, some of them are engaged, but even with laws here in Australia, they’re still not engaged. Really? Yeah. They find it confusing. They find it expensive. They find it disruptive. So unfortunately, just like anything, we’re going to see a couple of really big pieces of case law drop where directors are imprisoned because there’s jail time linked to poor psychosocial risk management now. We had two senior managers in Victoria, Australia, were jailed last year. So, they’re not mucking around with this stuff. But even then, getting it in front of the board and getting them to buy into this. And I know it’s incredible. It’s a lot harder in other countries where it’s not legislated.

Correct. But there are people listening in that have an interest with this then the four Cs, I call it. And that is, what’s the cost? And to sell what the cost is, well, let’s have a look at our absenteeism rates, our turnover rates, our production rates, our injury claims, if that particular scheme exists in your respective country. Let’s have a look at retraining costs, because all that is costing millions. Of course. The Gallup Institute said a burnt-out employee will actually cost the company three times their salary. That’s one burnt out human, right? So, there’s absolutely cost, whether it’s direct or indirect associated. So, if you’re able to tell that story via data, that’s really good. That’s going to appease the CFO. That’s going to appease everyone that’s just going, Okay, well, how much is going to cost and why? And why do we need to give you budget? I get a little bit cheeky here. Why do we need to pay to keep humans safe? And that just boggles my mind. But anyway, it is what it is. The second one is culture. So, we’ve got cost, we’ve got culture. So, if you’ve got a better culture, that’s just all senses of goodness, which I’ve discussed.

I won’t be repetitive, but teams are going to toxify less. People are going to have better relationships with their leaders. People are going to feel safe enough to speak up about risk early on, rather than becoming incredibly injured, and you’re either losing an employee or paying for one to get well. So, you want a really good culture. And also, as younger workforces flow into workplaces, which is unavoidable, they’re actually coming in and asking questions. They’re like, Okay, well, I’ve got three other interviews today. How is your company going to keep me psychologically safe? Because you’ve said there’s a few risks involved with this role, and I’m prepared to take those on. But what are you going to do for me? Right. How are you going to keep me safe? Because you’ve clearly outlined how you’re going to keep me physically safe. You might give me the appropriate PPE. You might give me X, Y, Z. But how are you going to keep me psychologically safe? And if employers aren’t able to answer that, they’re going to go and work for the company that can. So, there is talent acquisition, being enterprise ready, getting the right fit for the right role in the organization.

That’s really appealing to boards and executives. Then we’ve got competition, which interludes with what I just said. You want to be competitive. You need the right people in your organization to continue to keep your competitive edge. And if they’re all going to work with the other organization that does give a hoot about people’s mental health, then you’re absolutely not going to be enterprise ready for the future. You’re going to struggle. There’s a lot of evidence to say, if you don’t get behind this, you’re pretty much going to be dead in the water in 10 years. Because particularly the younger workforce… And I don’t mean to be age bias here, but younger people are getting more education around mental health and what that looks like earlier on. Eric, when you and I were at school, we didn’t talk about mental health. It didn’t exist where it’s very much on the younger workers dialect. And it’s very much not necessarily a benefit, but a right. I have a right to be safe. And so, again, competition. If you want to be competitive and keep those doors open, you need to embrace this stuff because it’s not going away.

Just because it’s not legislated doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it. Think about the longevity of your organization. And then, look, the final C word doesn’t actually apply in a lot of countries. It applies here, thank goodness, and that is compliance. Whereas I know that a lot of listeners today won’t have that card to play. But if you can get your head around the costs, the culture, and maintaining competitive in this market, then you’ve got a fairly good business case. But like anything, Eric, a lot of companies won’t do something unless they have to do it. And that’s just age-old human learning.

Isn’t it? Unfortunately, yes.

Yeah, I know. And it’s not a pleasant thing, but I’m not going to call it for anything else that it’s not. But yeah. So, if you can focus on the first three Cs, for those of you that are based in Australia, and for those that are based in Australia, you’ve definitely got the compliance card now. So, director, how about we keep you out of prison and do stuff? Which tends to work. Yeah. It tends to be a hefty stick. 

Yes, absolutely. So, Anna, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your insights. I think it’s a critically important topic, both for safety professionals and for leaders’ organizations in general, to really start looking at psychological safety, overall mental health and well-being. As you talked about the psychosocial different concepts. I hear more and more people talking about psychological safety. Not enough on the psychosocial side of the equation. I think it’s really important to touch on those topics. If somebody wants to reach out to you to get more insights, to have you present at a conference, how can they do that?

Well, strap yourself in because I’m pretty loud and pretty proud.

Perfect. Thank you so much, Anna.

My pleasure, Eric.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Anna Feringa is an award-winning International Speaker, Author, Trainer and Workplace Mental Health Consultant. She is a leading expert in topics including Psychosocial Health & Safety, Leadership Capability, Injury Management and best practice workplace Mental Health. As a respected member of global HSE, Anna was recently recognised as a Global Top 10 Health and Safety Influencer, 2020 and voted LinkedIn Top Voice for Workplace Mental Health in 2022.

With over 18-years’ consulting experience, Anna supports employers by helping them see that embracing Mental Health in the workplace can help prevent injury and drive a great culture. She helps Australian businesses transition from fearful and confused, to confident and responsive when faced with Mental Health challenges in the workplace.

For more information: www.annaferinga.com.au or https://www.linkedin.com/in/annaferinga/.

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Levelling Up Safety by Embracing Total Wellness at Denver Fire Department with Manuel Almaguer

Levelling up safety by embracing total wellness at Denver fire department

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“At that time, we had focused so much on line of duty deaths, but what we did not know is that suicides were starting to outpace line of duty deaths in the fire service.” Manuel Almaguer remembers back to 2013 when the Denver Fire Department began to roll out training with an intentional focus on discussing stressors, risk factors, and ways to take care of themselves and each other in public safety. Tune in as Manuel discusses steps the Denver Fire Department has implemented through the years to beat the stigma, build trust through vulnerability, and prioritize peer support to embrace total wellness throughout the fire department.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-Suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Manuel Almaguer. He’s the assistant Chief with the Denver Fire, 20-year veteran champion of mental health and we’re here to talk about some incredibly powerful actions that he’s taken. He’s driven within Denver Fire to bring the topic of mental health to the forefront. So many really excited to have you with me today.

Hey. Good morning, Eric. It’s my pleasure and looking forward to this conversation for quite some time. Thank you.

Excellent. So many your story has been shared in many different forms that I’ve heard. In terms of the work you’ve done in Denver Fire, maybe let’s start a little bit about what got you inspired to do some very powerful things which we’ll get to very soon around mental health within Denver Fire.

That’s great. It’s a great intro. And my background before I came into Denver Fire Department was in psychiatric settings. So, I was a psychiatric registered nurse and I worked in institutional settings with the developmentally disabled as well as those with some severe mental illness concerns that would require the institutional setting. So, I’d worked in that setting for eleven years and then I went into the career change with Denver Fire and really thought, okay, I pretty much have seen what I’m going to see in life and there’s really nothing that’s going to be shocking to me or something that’s going to as I thought would be traumatic. So, this was in the year 2000 and then I started to see trends and people that I had worked with and people who had retired from the fire service and taking their own lives. But where it really impacted me, and a few others was in 2013 when there was a suicide of one of our respected captains in the Democratic Department and just a man that many of us kind of looked up to as a mentor. And you have to keep this perspective when you come into public safety and specifically the fire service and you always think of somebody who’s stoic, somebody who doesn’t have any issues personally, somebody who’s just kind of that man’s, man, firefighter, firefighter.

He just never really looked deep into the layer of anything that could be preoccupying them in any way. So, this individual took their life in 2013 and it crippled a handful of us. And at the time it was with an employee group called Firefighters Incorporated for Racial Equality and maybe on the executive board worked with this individual in the firehouse. So, what was so interesting about this is that at that time, we had just started to get at the forefront of suicide in the fire service. And at that time, Denver fire collaborated with the National Pawn Firefighters Foundation. We were focusing on the Life Safety Initiative, which is mental health. So, we started to roll out some training. It was very basic training. It was called stress first aid. So, at that time was the very first introduction that I could recall in the fire service, where we started talking about stressors risk factors and ways to take care of yourself and each other. But we were influenced in all of this. We were just trying to get the message out. Well, while we were doing this, right under our nose is when the suicide of the captain occurred.

So, at that time, we knew we had to do something that had a little bit more teeth to it, that was more sustainable, and actually would capture the attention of the importance of this pattern that was starting to go on in the fire service. Because at that time, we had focused so much online of duty deaths, but what we did not know is that suicides were starting to outpace line of duty deaths in the fire service, but we never even so at the time, a task force was formed with FRE. There’s about three to five of us that says, okay, let’s go out and see what we can do. We’ve had enough and we were broken. Eric we really did not know what we were going to get into, but we knew we needed to do something. And so, what we did is the firefighter mentality. We picked up our bootstraps, we marched forward and said you were not going to take no for an answer. But we really didn’t have an idea. We started to look at resources in the state of Colorado, city of Denver, and at that time, we were knocked on many doors.

We’re here, we’re men. We lost somebody very close to us. We have a lot of the same DNA running through our bodies. We’re high-risk factors. We’re at a high stress job. And people are like, yeah, that’s great. That’s a tough culture, tough stigma. Let us know if you have somebody that’d be willing to work with you. It was to us as like, boy, we were just kind of like, whoa, I guess we are kind of in our own little category of high-risk occupations. Well, then what happened at the time is I just happened to be looking on YouTube and I saw there was a local department of the region down to the south of Denver that had put together this video called Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide. So, I watched it very captivated, like, wow, this is what we’re trying to get into.

Sure.

I looked at the credits, and in the credits was Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas. And I looked at, wait a minute here. She’s down the street from us. So, we made contact with her. About three of us went in there to talk to her, and immediately we knew we were in the right hand. She almost was, like, waiting for us. And at that time, she was recognizing this pattern and trend that was going on amongst working agents, specifically in the public safety industry as well as the construction industry. So, what we did at that time was we collaborated with Sally, and we started at a very, very we had a strategy to go and get some focus groups. And so, what we did is we got members from all ranks, probably about ten to 15 members of the Denver fire department of all ranks. We just went into a room, and we just started talking about what we were all going through and what was so glaring and all that. And I knew everybody in this room, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of who they were as men and as women and as firefighters.

The out is I really had no idea what they were going through. And they were raw. They were tough conversations and very real and eye-opening dialogue. And we had felt that the common thread we had all had been we were all stressed. We take home our work, and we knew we had a system that needed more resources. Keep in mind, at the time when I came on the Denver fire department in the year 2000, we had a city policy that had kind of made its way into our department policies. And it basically was, if you’re experiencing a crisis or if you need mental health resources, call this number.

Sure.

And it was office of employee assistance as a paragraph, probably that big, and every city employee, this was the avenue for resources. So, at the time I thought, well, I don’t want to minimize what anybody in a city employee is going through, but I felt pretty confident that somebody in the library or somebody in parks and rec wasn’t dealing with the same stressors. And that’s me.

I think that’s probably a fair assumption.

And so those are the types of things we knew we had to start having in place in order to have options for our members. Because, you know, the more options you have, the better choices you’re going to make, and there are resources that are better suited for you and your own individual needs. But at that time, our most used resource was our care support team, and that is members of the Democratic department through specialized training. And that is what we had. It was most widely used. We had a department of psychologist. But if you did not feel comfortable with those two resources, then all you had was just the city OOE EAP employee assistance program. So, what we did with that focus group is we looked at a strength and needs assessment. What are the strengths of the fire service? What are the strengths of the Denver fire department? We knew the strengths are we’re a family, we take care of each other. We all have the risk factors that we all can pretty much unspoken language know that, okay, this person, he or she is going through probably the same challenges that I’m going through.

We knew that the strengths are with the firefighter mentality. Give us a task, we’ll take care of it. And the weaknesses we have were lack of resources, lack of trust. Lack of trust meaning that we didn’t feel confident that we could come forward with vulnerability. It was a weakness at the time, and we felt that we didn’t have trust and there would be no labeling the stigma attached. And I want to promote in the fire service well if I come forward and I start talking about the course I’ve taken in my career with dealing with my mental health challenges or concerns, does this impact me where I go on my future? He felt very, very leery about crossing the boundaries of being leaders in the fire service and conveying vulnerability to our peers. And then our peers felt I don’t trust leadership because they’re going to go and use this against me in my career. All these obstacles, we just kind of hashed them all out. And so, we also had done a survey and got to keep in mind a survey in public safety. We probably have 2% to 5% Ops participation. We put this survey and we asked what do I think about mental illness?

What do I think my peer thinks about mental illness? What do I think leadership thinks about mental illness? Can I name five risk factors, somebody who may be experiencing a crisis? Can I list five resources that are available to me and to my peers? We had about a 20% participation rate in the fire service and to many in a company organization, I might not see my calaba. To us it was huge. And we knew at the time that people want to be heard and people are struggling. So, we found out some very alarming data from that. People couldn’t even name resources other than the EAP. And so, with that, we put together a training and said, okay, we’re going to go through this model called the working minds model. We’re going to train the trainer because we knew in the fire service public safety, you bring in an outside speaker to tell you, you know, this is what you’re going through. You automatically get suspicion. You’re going to get the fear of conspiracy. So, we knew in order for it to be effective, it had to be biased for us and we had to put people who’ve actually walked this path.

We’re in positions of leadership and basically say, okay, this is what we’re dealing with. That was the first challenge. The second challenge is we knew we could not go in there and just say, we’re going to talk about mental health and resiliency. Sure, you’re probably going to get callings that day. You’re probably going to get people who have some other thing they want, training they got to take care of. But we knew we couldn’t do that. So right at that time in the fire service, we always are championing physical health. Cancer is high amongst firefighters, heart attacks amongst firefighters and first responders. So, we knew we had to capitalize on that and morph it together, what we call the total wellness. So, let’s talk about what we’re going to take care of our physical health, checkups physicals body composition analysis, propensity for injury, and then let’s start talking about our minds, what’s going on here? As below, as above, so below, that’s kind of our approach. So, we coupled it all together. We called it total wellness and we got great buying. And it was something that we felt that became a model that continued to be used in corporate America.

But it was something, like I said, if I look back on it and it was probably the best thing that we could have done, but there’s was something missing. We had just started to capture data and at that time the data was alarming because like I mentioned before, you think of firefighters, you think of the worst possible thing that could happen is a line of duty death. But when we start talking about working age, men, fire service, the risk factors we all bring in, we’re risktakers by nature. We’re around death all the time. We know if we are in a crisis. We know the mechanisms to take our own life. And we had captured the attention of the data of the people we were presenting to on the organization. But we knew in order to get that knockout punch to really deliver the message. At the time, Dr. Sally says, let’s get about five people in leadership positions. Let’s put together a video. And I want you to talk about moments in your career when you are vulnerable, maybe going through a difficult time, have soft treatment, and you are now triumphant, if you mind.

The ten of us that are going through this, we’re like, we’re very passionate. We know what needs to be done. But all ten of us are like, I don’t know anybody like that, do you? We’re kind of looking around the room. In reality, we were part of our own story. This is part of our own healing. And those of us who were deeply impacted by the suicide of the captain, I look back on it and going through this was part of the best thing we could have done for ourselves because we were able to lay our hearts on the table, be open be vulnerable. So, once we got together, a group of us that basically talked about seeking help, advocating for mental health and resilience building, which is what captured the attention of the members of the department of everything we did. And it was all great. People said, you know what, I never knew that you were going through this, and I admire you so much for your courage and vulnerability and coming forward and that we were able to build on. And I firmly believed, unfortunately, we had a line of duty death about a year and a half later, and this was a firefighter who had fallen through a roof and had lost his life two weeks later.

Well, because we had already started to build those skills of resiliency, crisis intervention, suicide prevention, we were able to teach the entire department on grief and loss. And I firmly would never have been able to broach that topic if we hadn’t already built that trust. And so that is kind of the story in a nutshell on how Denver Fire Department began to morph into championing mental health, coming up with more programs, recognize the value of resource building internally through peer support. Department psychologists were able to come up with a chaplain service for people who are more inclined to have spiritual intervention for mental health. And we were able to collaborate with many, many agencies and suicide prevention organizations and champions. But that’s how it all began.

I think the story is incredibly powerful. A couple of things that really hit home for me was the importance of peer support. And I think the message you shared around without trying to minimize the challenges that other groups may go through. EAP and many organizations that actually remember having the conversation earlier this week is the EP group that you’ve got prepared to address themes. Do they understand what you’re going through saying in the fire department or whether it’s law enforcement without its construction, whatever industry that you’re in because it seems maybe different construction, sometimes you could be away for six weeks or you might be flying to see your family for a day, which could create new stressors and differences. So, I think the peer support piece is something I’m hugely in favor of. I think it’s incredibly important. I love how you adapted things; you made it for the fire department, you adjusted terminology, the total wellness. I think these things are powerful because if it feels like it’s something that’s corporate that’s being pushed, people won’t use. And I think that’s incredibly powerful. And your message around vulnerability, I’ve seen it time and time again when people are comfortable, and leaders are comfortable being vulnerable.

It’s so powerful in terms of getting people to understand.

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit [email protected].

That’s a great point, Eric. And this is a story I want to share with you recently. About two weeks ago, I was at a call downtown on an actual suicide of an individual who had taken their life by jumping off of a structure. And so, if that would have happened 1520 years ago, those who were part of that incident had witnessed what had happened, we would lose them because we would never address what they’re feeling now or what they may be feeling next day down the road. So, after everything was mitigated and during that time when I’m getting the company back in service, the first call I made was our purpose support director. And I said, this is what happened. These are the individuals that were on the scene. Please give them a call by the end of the day or tomorrow morning. So, to see that transition and now it’s part of our call process. First incident, I would never have even thought of that 1520 years ago. It was just something that you went home, you took it home with. If you were able to talk with members of your family or of your own internal support network, fantastic.

But if you didn’t have those, then this is carried with you, and it be accumulated through your career.

Right. And I think one of the reasons why I think your story’s powerful and obviously we’re talking mostly about safety. You’re in the public safety space, you do incredibly dangerous workday in and day out. What’s the impact of mental health and not addressing on physical safety of a team member? That because I think the two things are intertwined. We know from a physical safety standpoint, distractions, all sorts of things that can be exacerbated by mental health can have an impact in terms of my choices, my decisions, and how I stay physically safe as well.

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, as I mentioned earlier, we started to recognize the trend and pattern in line of duty death being surpassed by suicides, not just in the fire service, but in public safety. And this has continued to be the trend for almost ten years. I think the only time we had line of duty deaths that were outpacing suicide was during COVID, but we don’t see a drop off in these trends. So, the cumulative effect, if these stressors and risk factors aren’t addressed, obviously the worst-case scenario is the suicide of a member. But you can also attach it to the things that maybe we don’t consider taking it home to your loved ones. Anger, substance use. And that data we had done back in 2014, we started to see the prevalence of substance use. We started to see the prevalence of domestic issues that were going on in the home. We started to see a trend in the number of divorces in the fire service. We started to see the number of disciplines in the fire service. We started to see a number in injuries. So, all the things you can easily attribute to not taking care of yourself.

And when you look at the number of calls that the peer support receives on an annual basis, of course they’re all confidential. But we do look at the types of calls and they all are on family, substance use, anger management, feeling loss of value and a sense of purpose because of injuries. And you have to keep in mind we’re all kind of have our bread to be on the frontline, to be out there riding on the rig, to be a part of a crew. And when you have issues where you’re taking time off of work, whether for recovery, whether it’s mentally or physically, you lose that sense of value being a part of something bigger than yourself, part of a team. So those are all the things that you can attribute to not taking care of yourself. And then we were also seeing trends, and this is something that may be surprising to a few, is our retirees were taking their lives in the past two years. I probably have a handful of retirees who once they were off the department, had taken their lives. It’s a sense of possibly not having a support network of the brothers and sisters of the fire department to bounce things off and maybe not having the support network that they once had.

And I’ve seen this in other industries as well, where there’s a very strong bond connection to the mission, even in the aviation space, pilots as well, risk factors after they retire. All of that also changes the context that you’re operating within. So, is this something you’ve also extended to people that have left the fire department in terms of the peer support or not yet?

No. Well, we’ve brought it to the attention of administration. We brought it to the attention of the union. Of the union. And yes, I believe it’s part of the message that this is what we’ve seen, these are the resources available to you. But we don’t really have to touch points like we would have members who are currently in the department. But I will tell you what we did that I really felt that was a game changer for us is that I really didn’t start talking about mental health until my 15th year on the department. When I came on in the year 2000, if there was anything going on with me internally, I’d dare not say anything. And even if I was to say, hey, I’m having a bad day, I’ll be quiet kid, just move on, get on the rig. So, part of the academy process, when the new recruits come in, they are automatically just within that first 17 weeks of their training are instructed on the importance of self care, are instructed on being able to have the courage to intervene if a member or a colleague. And I use this story, and I’ve used it with the recruits.

So, in the fire service, we’re safety oriented. Everything’s about safety, of course. And when you’re on a call, all of us are responsible and have an obligation to safety. It doesn’t matter if you’re the chief. It doesn’t matter if you are the brand-new firefighter in the city. You come up on a house fire and you see a roof sagging, I ask the most junior person, the least seniority on the department, what would you do? You roll up on this. What would you do? Oh, Chief, you know what? I immediately talked to the incident commander, but there’s a safety issue right there. The roof is saying, we need to pull people off the roof without hesitation, with confidence. I said, okay, you go back to the firehouse, and you happen to walk past your officer’s room, and you see your officer with his head in his hands and he saw me. What are you going to do? They look around, I don’t know. I said, the mindset is we’re safety officers on the fire ground and in the firehouse, if somebody is in danger or there’s a concern or somebody is not themselves, just like reading smoke, we can tell when there’s turbulence.

We should be able to read each other when there’s inner turbulence, have the courage to intervene and have that dialogue. So that’s the mindset that we’re trying to have. Our entry level recruits have those skills and at least the awareness of themselves and their peers that they can start having that conversation and start moving things in that direction early in their career.

Thank you, Manny. That’s very powerful. So, Manny, thank you for sharing all these great ideas and your experience through this. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to explore your journey within Denver Fire, to explore how to leverage some of the insights you’ve had there in the organization, how can they get in touch with you?

Eric, they can contact me through my personal email. And that is Manny322003@yahoo.

Perfect. And I also want to thank you for coming, sharing your story, for the work that you’ve done within Denver Fire and how you brought all the teams together behind this. I think it’s a very encouraging story and a story I wish a lot of others started thinking about. How do I embark on a similar journey and ultimately as well, thank you for your service within Denver Fire and keeping people safe day in and day out. Really appreciate everything you’ve done. Thank you.

Yeah, thanks, sir.

It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety. Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Assistant Chief, Manuel Almaguer, has been a Denver Firefighter for 22 years. Chief Almaguer has served in many roles in the Denver Fire Department. This includes Division Chief of Fire Prevention, Assistant Chief in both Training and Operations. Hazardous Materials Captain, and Lieutenant in Administration. He is a national champion of mental health and resiliency. He has spoken at The White House and Pentagon on Suicide Prevention and Men’s Health.

For more information: [email protected]

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The linkage between Safety and Mental Health & Fatigue with Dr. Tim Marsh

The Safety Guru_Dr. Tim Marsh_The linkage between Safety and Mental Health and Fatigue

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As we approach World Mental Health Day, tune in to identify the linkages between mental health and safety outcomes! In this insightful episode, Dr.Tim Marsh, discusses how organizations can improve their safety performance by taking a more holistic approach that also keeps leaders in tune with fatigue, anxiety and depression that could be increasing at risk work. Approaches such as developing supervisor soft skills and emphasizing the importance of actively caring are important tools for organizations to consider.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people. First. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. 

Hi and welcome to the Safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have with me, Dr. Tim Marsh. He’s a professor at Smith University in the United Kingdom. He brought in the 1990s behavioral and safety culture themes to Europe, has written many books. One of his top sellers was around talking safety and coming up in the autumn, we’ll have a new book that he’ll be publishing about talking health and safety, which is really a key topic for the conversation we have today. So, Tim, welcome to the show. 

Really excited to have you with me. 

Thank you for having me, Eric. 

Let’s start maybe first about yourself and how you got into this broad field of safety and safety culture. 

Sure. After I got a doctorate in psychology, I worked with the UK Mod and looking at recruit suicidal behaviors in young army recruits. While I finished that at the University, I was at Manchester University. They just started looking at behavioral safety techniques pioneered in America by the likes of Tom Browse, BSD and so on. And they were wondering if they might work in Europe. And the first European research project was at my university. And a colleague had started off that project but had left and they were looking for somebody to step in just for a couple of months to run the project while they found somebody suitable. 

And I just finished with the army. And they thought that it was all based on construction sites. And they thought that maybe somebody would work with squaddie in the army might be able to go to a construction and not get eaten. So, they asked me if I step in and I found it so enjoyable, but interesting, I never left. 

Interesting. So, you’ve done a lot of work linking mental health to safety outcomes. And I think this is a very important topic that a lot of people talk about mental health. Touch briefly in teams of the links to the safety, but don’t draw the full linkage. Tell me a little bit about some of the work you’ve done there and some of the research in this space. 

Yeah, sure. A lot of work has been done in mental health recently, particularly in places like the UK, because we’re aware of the fact that, for example, for every person we lose to an industrial accident, we will have 35 people of working age kill themselves. It’s something like five0 plays been 150 in the UK. Those are the figures. So, we’ve been doing a lot of work in that field anyway, because, of course, it’s tremendously inconvenient and morally awful to have people kill themselves. And we spent half a waking hour in work. 

So clearly what happens in work is relevant. But recently, some of our bigger clients, a large insurance company, QBE, asked me to look into the link between mental health and safety directly. And when you look at it, the research is inconclusive, controversial. It’s incredibly difficult to tease out what’s going on and why. If you know you can have been thinking it’s incredibly complex. It’s not complicated. It’s infinitely complex. So, for example, people who are really struggling, a lot of people who are really struggling have learned that the first thing they can do is to be nice to other people and be very pro social. 

It makes them feel better. So, it isn’t a simple linear relationship. But anyway, you got problems with reporting, you’ve got problems, people feeling going to be scapegoated, you’ve got problems with confidentiality, then you’ve got problems with medication, self-medication, all that. But when you look into it as best, we can tell, there are three factors that directly relink somebody having a bad day in work, somebody who’s struggling, and a propensity to have an accident. And those three things are that the first thing is if you’re struggling, you’re much more likely to be situationally aware, you’re distracted by other factors, thoughts, emotions, and are less situationally aware. 

So, you’re less likely to be aware of the risk. We all know that situational awareness is something we really want to avoid accidents. The second thing, of course, is if you know your Hydra triangle, we all know that the better work you do at the bottom of the triangle, the small at the top with the triangle, you get the love that you deserve. Not every day. There are no guarantees either way, but as a rule, you do well. The trouble with people who are struggling is they tend to be more fatalistic, of course. 

And if you fatalistic, you’re much less likely to be proactively working the bottom of the triangle and generating your own nut. And the third factor is, of course, people who are struggling can be grumpy. They can create risk around themselves, so they’re less likely to stop and challenge somebody in an effective way, much more likely to walk past situations where I saying nothing bugger them is as they go past, much more likely to be short with other people and have ineffective communications or worse than that, destructive communications where they’re actually awkward, difficult and reasonable and generates problems in others. 

So, for those three factors, there does seem to be a direct relationship between that mindset of an 85% of all mental health issues or depression or anxiety, the serious stuff. But 85%, I think the cost of the American economy has been estimated at 2 trillion a year, which is a big number. Who’s you and that is the 85% that is depression or anxiety and depression and anxiety. In essence, depression is simply spending time thinking about something that’s already happened in a negative way. Regrets is the obvious one biting us and so on. 

Anxiety really is spending a lot of time thinking about something that hasn’t happened yet in a negative way. So, anxiety and so on and all that depression and anxiety. We all do that. We all have those thoughts every day. Of course, we do. But if we have them to such an extent that it gets in the way, then it becomes a problem. That’s all it is. And people who had having too many Ops focus negative thoughts or future focus negative thoughts that it actually gets in the way and just more likely through those three factors to have problems at work? 

Absolutely. It’s quite controversial, but I think that is so self-evidently obvious. 

It makes a lot of sense. And I think a lot of people are touching on it. You draw the direct linkage between those themes, the challenges. A lot of organizations look at it separately. So, HR may be looking at mental health wellbeing and safety is looking at safety outcomes. What are some of the things that organizations or safety leaders can do to really address this part of safety? 

Yes. I think that the number one thing safety did is control. First of all, to be aware of it, not be afraid of it. There are all sorts of concerns that if you start talking about these things, you’re impacting on people’s private lives, it’s totally inappropriate. People will then not talk about anything. And you’ve got that classic thing where it’s been estimated that something like 85% of days taken off with bad backs are actually people taking days off because they’re struggling. If you have a bad back and you’ve got a positive mindset, I quote Dane Cowell Black over here in the UK on that. 

She’s a leader of all these things. And if you’ve got a bad back and you’re in a good place, you enjoy your work. I enjoy my work. I used to play a huge amount of golf when I was a young man. I’ve got a terribly bad back, like every heavy pot you played golf before. They were fully developed on. I just do stretch exercises. I just stand up while I stretch. There is that link on that controversy, but I think so. Don’t be afraid of it. 

It’s just what it is. But I think the number one thing that safety can do is to talk to occupational health and HR. I think that should be a key metric. How well does he get on with safety? 

I think, is a really important point. And what about organizations that aren’t really addressing mental health wellbeing fully, because obviously this is saying you’re more likely to have an accident. If you’re not addressing this in your workplace, what are some of the tactics that they should be bringing to the forefront to advance the need? 

They should be looking at it. We in the UK have been quoted in figures. One person in five is struggling on any given day. Some people they know it’s one in eight, nobody pushes back on nine and ten. So, if you’ve got 2000 employees out there constructing a bridge or a hospital or laying a rolled or whatever they’re doing that as a minimum. You got 2000 staff. You’ve got 200 people who are struggling. Now you’ve got two choices. One is you can try and analyze the extent and the causes and what you can do to help or you can just cross your fingers. 

We know from the world of safety, the crossing your fingers and hoping it goes away. 

It’s not good. It’s not necessarily proved entirely effective over the years. 

I hope it’s not a good plan. 

Well, it’s a tactic. 

It does. So, one of the things when you’re talking about mental health wellbeing, it links to a lot of themes as well. From a leadership standpoint safety leader have talked about. So, for example, active care to me is also about if I know who’s on my teams, I demonstrate care, maybe I’m more likely to notice a difference today. Tim showed up and maybe you’re not as Jovi as usual or something that looks different. What’s your thought in terms of active care, but other soft skills that could be really key from a supervisor in leadership standpoint? 

Well, the obvious thing, of course, is a lot of companies over here in the UK, Shell oil and gas have a very explicit culture of care. They promote an explicit culture of care, and that’s really just a person focus just to talk to people and try and notice them. So, it’s a dialogue piece very much reflected in the whole safety differently thrust the absolute essence of safety differently, which has had such an impact around the world, of course, is you’re the solution as a worker, not the problem. 

So, we want you to be safe and productive. You want to be safe and productive, what you need, what you need for me. And exactly the same principle applies to mental health and an individual. Wellbeing, so, for example, I need more flexibility or I don’t have enough control or I have too much control. There’s a thing called wars vitamin model of mental health at work. Very influential piece, academically decades. So just been rediscovered, really, as we all turn towards it in a more commercial way. Recently, control is a classic up to nine. 

He’s got nine factors. But what he says is you have to have the right level for the right person. So, if you’re the sort of self-employed person who can only really function as self-employed because otherwise you are unemployable, you need a high level of control, give the level of control or somebody like myself who’s self-employed on my own company, give that level of control to a lot of people and they never sleep. 

Right. 

So, it’s about understanding. And of course, when we’re talking COVID, a really good example is a lot of people say, I love working from home. I’ve got children and a lot of people say, I hate working from home. I’ve got children. And of course, that could be the same person on the same morning. 

Right. So, the theme of investing in soft skills for frontline supervision seems like a very important one. And probably an area where HR and the safety teams can work together as well to upscale. And any thoughts on that part? 

Oh, absolutely. And over the years, we’ve done thousands of safety culture surveys. And the one thing that always comes out is the soft skills of your front-line supervisors and managers could be upgraded absolutely every single time. So, another Web Wars vitamin model is into personal contact, of course. And what you find is some people like a little they’re quite solidary. They don’t really need people very much. Some people like a lot. But the one thing is an absolute constant is they want to have the right level of it and they wanted to be good quality. 

So, if you got somebody who isn’t particularly into personally skilled, that’s a problem for everything and always will be, that’s great. 

Thank you. Another theme as well is the element. I know when we talked before the theme of just culture and how does that play into safety, but also the element from a mental health standpoint. 

Just culture. Now you’re talking some deep and serious stuff that goes back millions of years. You know, they do say that there are two factors that seem to distinguish the most successful societies and species, for that matter. Out. One is that they have a learning focus. So, my multimillion-selling books, like Is Cow Dex Mindset to be a psychologically safe organization, and so on is all about trust. And it’s all about learning. And the two things go hand in hand. So, for me, the organizations that are best, they will have hit Diminishing returns with systems, procedures, compliance regulations, rules, training. 

They are pretty much it diminishing returns with that. But then there are two themes. The first one is learning when things go well, why have they gone wrong? What can we do about it? Brilliantly. Covered by a guy called Matthew Said called Black Box thinking if you listeners, I promise you, if you read Black Boxing and you don’t think it’s fantastic, I’ll come over and wash your car if you want to send me whatever you are. And the second one, of course, is trust. There’s a lot of studies that suggest that societies that have higher levels of trust flourish better than societies that have a culture of low trust in the classic example is Italy. 

They studied Italy. And so why is the north of Italy doing so well compared to the south? And the correlation that seemed to be strongest was that they have a culture of non-trust in the south and a culture of trust in the north. So obviously it gets complex again, because the trouble with societies that default the trust. Well, the good thing about societies that default the trust is that you set up more virtuous than vicious circles and you flourish because it’s better to have a false negative than a false positive. 

The downside, of course, is that cults and Con men take advantage of that. So, to quote, I did an article for a magazine the other day on a book came out called how to Think Like a Spy by Britain’s leading spy just retired. And I thought the line in the book that just absolutely resonated with me. He said this same thing, trust. You have to bit. You have to go from a premise of trust that’s best for everybody. And normally it works. But there will be people to try and take advantage of you. 

So just everybody verifies everything. 

Trust everybody verifies everything, especially verify everything, but verify everything interesting. So, on that topic, I think your book coming up fairly soon or Talking Health and Safety, can you give our listeners a bit of a preview of some of the teams that you’ll be exploring within that book? 

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Com. Yeah, sure. The original Talking Safety. It was home to have a world class safety conversation with the subtitle, and the idea was a cost or commitment from a just culture perspective. So, with the mindset and assumption that if something has gone wrong or is about to go wrong, there is a reason for it that makes sense to the person involved and to have that conversation as proactively as possible, not waiting for something to go wrong, and then you default to blame and finger point doing. But to do it proactively so that it’s just a introduce yourself. 

Ask why, curiously, not aggressively. There are other questions based on things like temptation analysis. Is there anything slow and convenient? They’re uncomfortable about doing this job safely because we know for a fact if there is, some people will be tempted to cut corners and then some people will cut corners. It’s just a head coat from then on. And the bottom of how you look famous triangle fills up, and sooner or later somebody gets it. So that was the basic model. And then it costs when you find out if you do need to address the individual, for example, because there is a temptation. 

But you can’t do anything about it because you’re pulling down the factory next year, and the cost of making the changes you need is just prohibitive. Then get into coaching. Get into coaching modes rather than telling somebody you use data, you use illustration and praise rather than criticism, and so on and use all those techniques. And then you say, thank you and you go. And I think the absolute essence of talking health and safety. In the first book we said, introduce yourself, ask people how they are, and then crack on. 

Obviously, when you ask people how they are, especially in Europe, where we’re already stuffing a bit. I’m fine. Thank you. 

I think you get that pretty much everywhere. 

Yeah, I especially in Europe, of course. And so, I think the essence of talking health and safety, as well as going through mental health first aid training. And it signs to look out for talkative ones that have gone quiet, quiet ones that have gone talkative, smart ones that have gone scrape, all that sort of stuff and all those top tips about mental health. It’s just to ask the question at the end of the conversation when you’ve developed some rapport when you’ve had a decent conversation and you’ve worked together a bit just to revisit that simple opening gambit of and how are you only this time properly and mean it as opposed to just, I’m okay expecting an answer. 

This. I’m okay. Thank you. And that really, I think, is the essence of a culture of care. If you listen to people and know who they are, they’re much more likely to torture. I give you a case study if you like. I’ve got a very large client. They managed to switch off a major airport as an engineer, made a mistake, and they wanted a human error project that made that less likely to happen in the future. I was talking to so they can’t fall down the stairs teams or they can’t do this, you know, it so well, I wouldn’t worry about them falling down the stairs. 

You do realize they’re 35 times more likely to throw themselves down the stairs. And if they’ve had a really bad day, they run them up with an axe for half and ever while you’re trying to get into the security secure factory, you’ve got a real problem? 

Sure. And they said, well, any of our workers like that well, certainly will be having a bad day maybe as much as ten. But I just spoke to a guy, for example, who has just got divorced, is living on a friend’s couch, is 50 years old, but his drinking as much as he did when he was a student and is really close to the edge. And the MD said, well, how did you know that? That’s I was chatting to him. And I said, how are you? And he said, all right. 

And I said, oh, I’m not convinced you’re all right. I said, well, why did he talk to you? I suspect I’m the first person who’s ever asked him if you saw it. You want me to talk to somebody. So, I talked to me. So, Eric, the essence of a caring culture, a culture of care, I think, is really just listening. If you asked question, you are right that somebody says, yeah, I’m fine. You good. Great. And you crack on that’s not going to get us very far. 

But if you genuinely listen to the answer and hold their gaze and look at them. And obviously the trick is to genuinely care, not pretend you’re caring, but actually care, they will talk to you nine times, say the ten, they will open up and they will talk to you. And then you can have a grownup adult conversation about the fact that 10% minimum of your workforce I having a bad day and could use somebody to talk to. We can all you somebody to talk to. One of the things that we’ve been doing here with my companies, as I said, taking a genuinely holistic approach to the whole human error piece. 

You know, it doesn’t really matter what causes the human error, but because it will be multifaceted. And one of the things that we’re already familiar with, of course, is fatigue. You know, somebody who is very tired, they’ve been up for 18 hours. They’ve done a split shift or whatever, and they haven’t quite recovered. Now you’ve got the same physiology as somebody is drunk. And, of course, fatigue and mental health, two parts of a pair of gloves. Really, if you’re tired, you’re having a bad day. It’s very difficult to have a good day when you’re really tired. 

Every day is a better day if you’re broken alert. Likewise, if you’re stressed, you don’t sleep very well. The whole thing becomes a vicious circle. So absolutely, incorporating fatigue management. So, a lot of companies will have a fatigue management process because they’re aware of the fact that they don’t want their workers out. They’re drunk in inverted e-commerce. Thank you ever so much. But they might not have anything in that fatigue management that does any sort of monitoring or Proactive work about mental health. But they should the two things that go together, handing both. 

Yeah. I think that’s a really important point. 

People simply do not make mistakes very often because they can’t be bothered all because they’re stupid. Of course, both of those things are true a lot, but the majority of yeah, absolutely. But on the majority of occasions, that’s not true. They’re good people doing their best, and they make mistakes for a variety of intel reasons, often Bureau being stressed and preoccupied by issues about the past or the future. Being tired, they’re often front and center in that stupid accident. An invert ecommerce where somebody just does something daft or doesn’t see something or drops something or presses the wrong button or falls over something or drives into something or reverses into something, et cetera, et cetera. 

It doesn’t sling something properly. All those accidents start with mental health, fatigue rather than human error. As Sydney Decker says, human error is never the end point of any investigation. It has to be the start point. And mental health is often. I don’t mean you’re crazy. You schizoid free bipolar. I mean, you’re just a bit depressed or you’re really very anxious often that is an important causal element of the equation. 

Yeah. And I really appreciate the work that you’re doing in terms of the research in terms of bringing the topic of conversation linking those themes think is incredibly important. So, I really appreciate the work you’re doing and all the consulting that you’re doing with a lot of organizations to bring the topic about and address the broader theme of safety culture. 

It’s a lot of fun, actually, but working in such an important field, it’s not a niche. You can’t just find everybody who admits that they’re struggling, in fact, and that’s about 20% of your workforce, so that’s not going to happen. Doing some mainstream work that really brings good psychology front and center in important field is obviously fantastic for anybody myself. Considers himself a psychologist. Excellent. 

Well, Tim, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your thoughts. And I’m looking forward to the upcoming books around talking health and safety. 

Oh, thank you, Eric. Thank you so much. 

I have. I’ve really enjoyed myself. 

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Tim Marsh was one of the team leaders of the original UK research into behavioural safety (in construction) in the early 1990s He is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organizational culture, was awarded a “President’s Commendation” in 2008 by the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management and was selected to be their first ever ‘Specialist Fellow’ in 2010. He was made visiting Professor at Plymouth University in 2015.

He has given key note talks around the world including the closing key note at the inaugural Campbell Institute ‘International Thought Leaders’ conference (Dallas, USA, 2014 as well as key note talks at major conferences in South Africa, New Zealand, Asia, India and the Middle East. In 2016 he was the key note speaker at the inaugural NEBOSH Alumni event.

Founder of Ryder Marsh Safety he has worked commercially with more than 500 major organizations around the world, including many international oil and gas, utility, chemical, transport, IT and manufacturing organizations as well as the European Space Agency, the BBC, the National Theatre and Sky. Founded Anker & Marsh in 2018 with Jason Anker to focus more closely on wellbeing and mental health issues. His work as an expert witness includes the Cullen Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove train crash (Definition of Culture; Changing Culture) as well as with many law firms.

He has worked with media such as the BBC (radio work and selecting and fronting a box set of their “disaster” series) and has written and produced many training videos such as “Drive Smarter” and the extensive “Safety Leadership” series with Baker-media and ‘Crash Course’ (a commercial spin off of the Staffordshire Police speed and safe driving awareness course). He features in “There’s Always a Reason” and “Safety Watch”.

He has written dozens of magazine articles, many academic articles and the books “Affective Safety Management”, “Talking Safety”, “Total Safety Culture”, “Safety Savvy”, “A Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety” and “A Handbook of Organized Wellbeing”.  

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