Don’t Stress on the Investigation

Don’t Stress on the Investigation

Whenever we discuss culture and investigations in SPoR we always discuss the nature of stress and temperament (unconscious type) and how both of these affect interviewee, interviewer and the collective unconscious.

We know from the Culture Cloud (See Figure 1. Culture Cloud) that stress, de-stress, distress and eustress always affect: perception, memory, recollection, embodied emotions and disposition in context.

So, if you don’t know about these factors or don’t consider these factors crucial and believe the absurd notion of objectivity, you will simply get the outcomes you expect or deserve, but they won’t be even come close to an effective investigation.

Whenever I discuss the nature of stress and the psychology of perception with safety people in SEEK, none even know what eustress is! Of course, when you think perception of behaviours (what we do around here) is neutral and objective, you are even more deluded to thinking that culture is behaviours. That’s why notions of stress are positioned in the cloud between behaviours and values. Each condition and influence the other. Of course in safety investigations no one is educated about pastoral care, distress, PTSD or about many of the factors that condition knowing and influence.

The Culture Cloud (Figure 1. Culture Cloud) symbolizes the expected turbulence of culture and nothing is more turbulent than a fatality on site. Unless a definition of culture includes semiotics such as this, it is most likely you won’t make a dent in culture and continue to think that culture is about systems or behaviours. Systems and behaviours are NOT culture. Culture is best understood semiotically.

Figure 1. Culture Cloud


So, let’s have a quick look at stress.

Stress is normal but is different for everyone. One person’s stress is another’s distress.

The four states of stress are as follows:

  1. Stress: The state of heightened awareness of self in respect to responsibility.
  2. Distress: The state of breakdown in human functioning. Dysfunctionality is reflected in heightened depression, debilitating anxiety, overload, physical illness, anger, frustration and lack of control.
  3. Eustress: The state of launching off stress into a state of euphoria and excitement. This is particularly problematic when those about are conversely anxious or depressed.
  4. De-stress: The state of relaxation and relief.

You can see how stress can be represented on a curve (Figure 2. Stress Differential Curve)

Figure 2. Stress Differential Curve


We know that various forms of stress and, the drugs the body generates through stress, make stress addictive ( ) and that these affect: recall, memory, communication, listening and perception. We also know that dis-stress is addictive (Scientific American Mind May 2020 The Stress Fix) and results in the prominence of various forms of self-medication ( ) used to help people cope with the rising rates of anxiety and depression in society. One thing that has risen dramatically in the time of COVID lockdown, staying at home and stasis, has been the rise in alcohol consumption, drug use and domestic violence ( ).

We need to know when we are observing others in safety if we are observing an aberration of behaviour or a ‘normal state’ of behaviour. (BTW, safety doesn’t train people in behavioural observation skills or body language skills). We need be skilled in how to listen and observe (safety doesn’t train these either), so we can recognise signals and cues which have safety implications. We do all these in SPoR education. We also need to do so without being judgmental. We then need to interpret what we see and hear and consider the risk implications of our observations.

If you work in a workplace which is constantly stressed you may find that you are yet to observe any normal behaviour, you might only see abnormal behaviour at work. If you work in a distressed culture you may see normalized yelling, telling and coercion and accept such abuse as culturally normal.

Distress of itself can turn a low-risk activity into a high-risk activity for example, the release of anger under frustration is highly unpredictable. Unless we are expert observers (that safety people are not trained to be), we rarely know the breaking point of others.

If you want to better understand stress perhaps do the Holmes-Rahe stress inventory.

Of course, when you approach anyone for an interview you have no idea just how many of these factors are being carried by someone. Ah yes, but Safety knows. Safety knows everything about incident investigations. Just look at any investigation methods on the market and you can guarantee none of this is in their method. Just look at this rubbish nonsense IOSH pushes and you will soon understand that safety is NOT professional ( ).

How good is Safety? How professional? And you don’t hear a peep from anyone in S! or S2 about any of this, how different!

Even the very basics of research tells us that stress during a crisis (eg. fatality, loss of mobility) completely distorts the functioning of the brain ( ) indeed, the body. Safety knows, get that interview done. Oh yes, but don’t mind emotional intelligence about any of this, just plough through and get that interview done.

Of course, there is a fifth form of stress we haven’t even touched on, Post-Traumatic Stress, but we will have to leave that for a discussion another time.

For the moment, don’t stress about it.

But if you actually want to know a better method for investigations perhaps register for SEEK and see what you are missing out on:

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