Mental Health, Risk and Safety – Part 2

Originally posted on May 5, 2017 @ 10:52 AM

Mental Health, Risk and Safety – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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