Suicide watch – why mental health matters both to business and safety

Workplace mental health matters to both productivity and error reduction. Find out why and how to improve it at work. by going to 'What's the biggest killer of men under 50?'

You may expect the answer to the question, ‘what’s the biggest killer of men under 5o’, to be an accident or cancer. But the shocking answer is – themselves. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50, and particularly between 40 and 44 yrs. It’s also the leading cause of death for all genders between 24 and 30, but the male statistic is particularly poignant. And the reason?

“One reason that men are more likely to complete suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings.3 ”  Recent statistics show that only 27% of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died.4

It’s a sobering thought and perhaps particularly worth reflecting on for male-dominated industries where the culture may be especially, for the want of a better word, ‘macho’. In the same way that any discussion of safety needs to include psychological safety, the health in HSE needs to include mental health too.

Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and all media is bursting with valuable information about the importance of good mental health to quality of life and well-being. But good mental health is also an important part of organisational safeguarding of employees . The good news for organisations is it’s good for business. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) identifies two elements to well-being. These are ‘feeling good and functioning well’. It’s not rocket science that if your staff feel good and function well they’re going to be more productive.

Good mental health contributes to safety

But well-being and good mental health are also crucial to reducing risk and errors. As an experiment try this. Take a look at the two lists below. Do you recognise either of them? Can you see any relationship between the two?

wellbeing v error trap without headings

List One comprises the factors that impact most positively on workplace well-being, based on NEF’s 2014 literature review List Two comprises the Dirty Dozen Error Traps, a list of the preconditions that most contribute to errors and accidents taken from human factors literature. Can you see a relationship between the two lists?

High levels of well-being reduce error pre-cursors

The more there is of list one, the less there will be of list two, for example:

  • If someone is in good health, mental and physical, and has a healthy work/life balance, the error trap of fatigue is likely to be reduced.
  • If role expectations are realistic and a person has more control over their work the error traps of time pressure and resource allocation, for example, may well be reduced. And their mental health is also likely to be better
  • Certain management styles – particularly a coaching style which is both engaging and collaborative – are conducive to good teamwork, good communications, high morale and positive social norms. All of which contribute to good mental health and well being
  • Development opportunities can not just reduce complacency, but also lack of knowledge or lack of assertiveness (but only if it is the right kind of development). This can also reduce stress, and improve mental health and well being.
  • And fairness and job security make a big contribution to stress reduction, and therefore improves well-being and mental health.

But how do you improve the mental health of your workforce?

1. Improve the culture

Improving the culture of your organisation – in I I give a snapshot of what organisational culture is all about. It takes time to change, but one way of doing so is through training such as

2. Training*

Ensuring there are trained mental health first aiders in the organisation – an informal resource of colleagues rather than relying for initial contact on formal or external resources – might improve the chances of someone opening up about issues.

3. Raise awareness*

Raising people’s awareness of mental health as an issue and establishing mental health champions in the business can normalise talking about it. This week has been so important in this.

4. Change the management style in the organisation**

Certain management styles and activities are more conducive to the well-being of workers than others. Coaching in particular, because it involves good communication skills like listening and asking open questions, is particularly powerful in improving morale and well-being

5. Get more women in leadership positions!**

Women are more likely to display transformational leadership skills than men, who are more associated with a transactional leadership aproach. Nurturing female talent in areas other than HR, learning and development and HSE can help to change the culture in organisations and on site.

6. Change how we define health and safety

Take a look at these two definitions of safety:

  1. ‘The condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable.’
  2. ‘The control of recognised hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk.’

The first definition is a wide and all-encompassing definition of safety. It includes protection against a range of hazards and risks, not just physical, and includes the well-being factors in list one.

The second I would argue is more aligned to how health and safety is often perceived and practised – focused more on physical health, hazards and risks than on any other kind. The result can be a focus on reducing risk through compliance, regulation, process and physical defences. This has the potential to miss the wider factors that impact on accidents and errors such as improving workplace well-being and mental health of workers.

A change in attitude is needed

Of course, compliance, regulation, process and physical defences are vital and have resulted in the massive reductions in accidents seen over the last few decades. But they are not the whole story. The next step change in reducing error and accidents requires recognition that:

  • low workplace well-being and poor mental health are error preconditions and therefore require measurement and action
  • low workplace well-being is a cultural factor and improving it requires systemic change 
  • spending money on improving workplace well-being and on measures to support good mental health in the workforce makes good business sense

Share with us your experiences and please feel free to subscribe to the blog if you like what you’ve read, or pass this on to colleagues

Beehive can offer:

*MHFA Programmes

The MHFA England is the only body licensed to provide accredited mental health first aid programmes. Beehive can now offer :

  • Two day Mental Health First Aider courses which train ‘first responders’ in the organisation as a resource for employees to talk to
  • One day Mental Health Awareness workshops for all staff to raise awareness
  • Half day Mental Health Champions workshops for senior managers and HR

Through our latest associate Mark Bussell. For more details contact

**Accredited coaching programmes

  • Beehive is an ILM approved centre and offer:
  • In-house ILM-accredited Coaching and Mentoring Certificate and Diploma programmes at levels 3, 5 and 7
  • ILM-accredited ‘Coaching for Safety’ Certificate programmes at levels 3 and 5
  • Bespoke coaching and mentoring programmes
  • Our exclusive ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ introductory workshop through NSAN, which can be delivered in-house.

For more details contact or go to

Author: bsafebuzz

Sara Lodge is co-director, along with Mark Sykes, of Beehive Coaching and Leadership Development Ltd and b.SAFE Safety Culture, an organisational development consultancy specialising in behaviour change and safety culture.

2 thoughts on “Suicide watch – why mental health matters both to business and safety”

  1. Great stuff Sara, thanks. Came across a terrific statistic the other week: For every $1 spent on promoting well-being, organisations benefit to the tune of $2.30.

    1. Cheers Tim. It’s an awful start which makes what we do in developing interpersonal and management skills so important!

Leave a Reply