Emotional resilience – making health and safety personal

‘All My Sons’ is a play by Arthur Miller. I never see it without thinking of a comment made by a participant on one of our reenactment workshops. He’d been involved in an incident which though serious could have been much more so. Now, before putting anyone to work, he asks himself, ‘would I put my son to work in this situation?’ Safety had become deeply personal to him.

Everyone is someone’s son or daughter

His comment wasn’t intended to exclude women, he just didn’t have a daughter. But what had been brought very clearly into focus for him was he’d been complacent, and it was only luck that stopped serious harm happening to a colleague. He was courageous enough to admit it, and recognise that everyone is someone’s son or daughter. Therefore, they were precious and he needed to take more care.

That universal idea is the central theme of the play , which is as good an analysis of the causes and devastating consequences of a protection v. production decision as any event report or case study I’ve come across. It’s also about human weakness and the need for personal qualities, like courage and resilience, under pressure.

‘Knowing’ and knowing

The ability to catastrophise is an important skill for the safety practitioner. Part of the role is anticipating what can go wrong, and mitigating risk because, as Murphy’s Law says, if things can go wrong they will. But there are two different types of knowing that things can go wrong:

  1. One is the intellectual knowledge, based on training, rationality, laws of probability, physical properties, situational conditions, and endless induction presentations, that mistakes happen and so may happen to you.
  2. The other is ‘lived experience’, the very personal, visceral knowledge you gain through actually being involved in an incident. This cuts through the psychological defence of ‘it would never happen to me’ – it has. The knowledge that the world can turn from comfortable predictability to chaos without warning is something that can’t be learned through powerpoint or toolbox talks. And it has a profound effect.

Those people to whom nothing has ever happened and who do not have the ‘lived experience’ cannot, by definition, have the second type of knowledge. That’s not a failing, it’s a fact. Sometimes the issue for those people to whom something has happened, particularly if there is any kind of post-traumatic impact, can be hypervigilance – seeing danger in everything. That can be paralysing, and as unhelpful as denial. A middle way seems best to me – vigilance but without the hyper. Recognising the risks and mitigating them while still functioning as effectively as possible.

Safety – deeply personal

I’ve been involved in a very significant incident in the workplace, where the unimaginable happened with life-changing consequences. I’ve seen and experienced personally the impact that a significant incident can have on someone’s mental and physical health.

In a previous life I was a police officer. On a shift by shift basis I dealt with others’ life changing  events, which had both accidental and intentional causes. The impact on the perpetrator could be as intense as the impact on the victim. Later, as a trainee psychotherapist I worked with people coming to terms with the effects of similar kinds of incidents and events on their lives. There’s no solution – these events are part of living. But we can still do a lot to prevent them, which begins with taking responsibility for our actions.

Case study – Mark Sykes, Beehive Director says:

“While suicide obviously effects all genders, I know personally how hard it is to be a man and talk about feelings when something bad has happened. Not having anyone to talk to about how you feel reduces your emotional resilience. I have two sons who, while being apparently happy and stable, are at a very vulnerable age when it comes to emotional well-being and risk of suicide. The statistics are frightening. It really brings it close to home.

A participant on our D2iP b.SAFE Safety Leadership programme shared that through the coaching skills that he’d learned on the programme he had almost certainly prevented someone from taking their own life. We can never be sure of course, but I know that had I had the skills, knowledge and awareness I have now in my 20s and 30s I would have made very different decisions.

Beehive’s mission is to reduce error and accidents at work by taking a different approach to safety education and safety culture. We see emotional resilience and suicide awareness as being directly related to keeping people safe at work, because improving well-being and mental health reduces error pre-cursors.”

The Beehive approach – building emotional resilience

It’s no surprise therefore that the focus of Beehive is working to develop the kind of individual and organisational mindset, skills and tools that will help to avoid such incidents, increase accountability and keep people safe. To summarise what we seek to develop:


Awareness that Interdependency is not a safety culture, it’s the human condition. We need, are impacted on, and impact on others whether we recognise it or like it or not. Therefore, we need to shift our mindset to recognise this fact, and start learning the interpersonal and communication skills that will help us to work with the people around us. That’s the only way we can hope to minimise harm and keep ourselves and each other safe.


We need the skills that enable us to work with each other most effectively. Assertive communication, listening, compassion, constructive feedback, leadership, team building, performance management, collaborative problem solving, and building trust and relationships, are some of the most important skills for any site or organisation to function effectively. When I talk to people about this I have never heard anyone disagree. Yet, in my experience, there are few organisations putting serious money into investing in the personal mastery of these skills. But these are what will facilitate the next step change in safety, which is cultural.


Tools such as coaching and  mentoring models, action and experiential learning models, developing and sharing best practice models, collaborative problem solving and human performance approaches are essential tools. Any tool that help someone to recognise the systemic nature of human interaction, promote understanding, improve communication and build trust and resilience, supports this process. But any tool is reliant on the mindset and skills of the people using them. Take a look at my past blog https://bsafebuzz.com/2017/08/10/what-can-we-learn-about-behavioural-safety-from-americas-love-of-firearms/ to find out why.

Safeguarding – an essential part of QHSE

I’m not suggesting that all we need to keep people safe is a group hug. I am saying that part of QHSE has to be safeguarding our colleagues in more ways than the purely physical or the purely compliant. For Mark and me this stuff is not just business, it’s personal. And to make the next step change in safety this is the direction we need to go in – we need to make it personal.

New Emotional Resilience and Suicide Awareness Workshops

Beehive is now licensed by 4Mental Health to deliver their Emotional Resilience Workshop, and Suicide Awareness Workshop. These have been designed on evidence-based principles by Dr Alys Cole-King, a psychiatrist and pioneer of suicide mitigation. For more information about Dr Alys Cole-King’s contributions to suicide mitigation take a look at The Lancet. For more information about these workshops and the evidence base, please contact mark@beecld.co.uk

For more information about the b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme contact Mark Sykes on mark@beecld.co.uk or go to https://beecld.co.uk/b-SAFE-D2iP-Safety-Leadership-Programme

Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’

How coaching can develop ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’, the first of the WANO ‘Categories of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’

This is thehttps://bsafebuzz.com/podcast/coaching-and-individual-commitment-to-nuclear-safety/">Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’https://bsafebuzz.com/podcast/coaching-and-individual-commitment-to-nuclear-safety/embed/" width="500" height="350" title="“Coaching and ‘Individual Commitment to Nuclear Safety’” — b.SAFE Buzz" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" class="wp-embedded-content"> second podcast in which I explain how coaching supports a healthy nuclear safety culture by using WANO’s Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture. I explain that because coaching training develops the mindset and skills required to build ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’, introducing coaching can play an important role in the development of a healthy nuclear safety culture.

The PAC or Ego States Model is a model of personality that we use in our coaching training. We use it because it describes the mindset – Adult – that develops when you learn to coach, and that you invite in the people you coach. I show how it’s also the mindset needed to ensure people take personal responsibility for safety, one of the traits in this category. If you’d like to see the model see below. If you want to read further, please go to ‘How coaching supports ‘Individual Commitment to Safety’. If you actually want to test out your own personality, and find out how strong each ego state is for you, download the PAC Questionnaire here.

PAC Model

How coaching can support ‘Continuous learning’ in the nuclear sector

This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

My last three blogs (see links below) have been about non-directive coaching and how it’s relevant to the nuclear sector. I’ve used the WANO ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ to draw parallels between those traits and the mindset, skills and tools of coaching. This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

The coaching conversation – a framework for continuous learning

As mentioned in my first blog on this topic, coaching is effectively a conversation, but one with a specific structure, purpose ……. and shape. The structure, purpose and shape are designed to facilitate the process of continuous learning.

‘DIAMOND’ CONVERSATIONS- a coaching model

At Beehive we describe coaching conversations as diamond conversations for two reasons:

OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
The OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
  1. Partly because, taking the OSCAR Model we use as an example, they begin with a sharp focus on a clear outcome; they expand to consider the current situation, they expand further as choices and consequences are considered before narrowing the focus down to a point of action and review
  2. But mainly because coaching conversations are priceless.

the ‘Three Whats’ Model of Review

Another example of a coaching-based, continuous learning model is this simple process of three open questions, the Three Whats. It’s a quick and dirty approach to gaining operating experience feedback on the go:

  1. What? (ie what happened, simple description)
  2. So What? (ie so what are the implications of what happened? What worked, what didn’t, what impact will this have?)
  3. Now What? (ie now what do we do differently next time?)

It’s not in-depth or complicated, but it might just be enough to stop people repeating unhelpful actions or behaviours, start improving the process, and give those people working a voice so their thoughts, feelings, experiences and expertise can be taken into account. And it encapsulates the continuous learning process – taking time to reflect and review after a task rather than mindlessly doing what’s been done before.

In summary….how coaching supports a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching in organisational life

Coaching has become a standard feature of organisational life, recognised as good management practice across sectors and organisations. Research has shown that coaching has a significant impact on performance, skills, well-being, coping work attitudes, and goal directed self-regulation, and can improve the functioning of individuals in organisations.

The role of coaching in health and safety

In the past rules, regulations, process and procedure have been the dominant modalities through which health and safety has been delivered. The overarching intention has been to achieve compliance. But compliance is no longer enough. Developments in safety thinking including ISO 45001 show that the next big shifts in the field of health and safety will be cultural, where compliance is no longer aspirational but a minimum. There’s a growing awareness that technical skills and capability aren’t enough to supervise or lead in a safety critical industry, and bodies like IOSH have recognised the value and adopted coaching with enthusiasm as you can see below.

Coaching and the WANO traits

My intention in these blogs is not to suggest that coaching skills are unique to nuclear – coaching skills are generic and transferable; just good communication skills, good management practice. My intention is more to show how closely the mindset, skills and values of the discipline of coaching match the WANO traits. Bitter experience has shown that shortfalls of these traits contribute to plant events, and when they’re present they contribute to a positive safety culture. Therefore, through a simple process of logical deduction, developing coaching as an activity and skill set can help an organisation move closer to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Coaching to support a Healthy Nuclear safety Culture’ one-day workshop

Our nuclear workshop, designed and delivered in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear and with the help and feedback of nuclear organisations, is intended to give a taster, an introduction to coaching and how it might support your safety culture. We want to share what we know because we genuinely believe it can make a difference to nuclear safety. A one-day workshop won’t change the culture of a whole organisation directly. However, if you use the practical tools and skills you learn you can change the safety climate, and potentially improve everything from near miss reporting to contractor management and engagement. And who knows, that might be enough (though we’ll never know) to avert a disaster like Chernobyl.

Join us on June 12th

How coaching supports ‘Individual commitment to safety’

Coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to nuclear safety’ by increasing accountability, promoting a questioning attitude and improving communication flow.

My last article about how coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture outlined the three categories of WANO traits:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

I’m going to take the first of these, and show how the mindset, skills and tools of coaching can contribute significantly to ‘Individual commitment to safety‘.

1. Individual commitment to safety

Trait: ‘Personal accountability’

This trait focuses on the need for people to take personal responsibility for their actions. It also relates to understanding the importance of sticking to nuclear standards, and taking ownership of behaviour and work practices. Working across groups, departments and teams to make sure nuclear safety is maintained forms a part of this trait too. 

How coaching can help

To be personally accountable for your actions – to recognise your own responsibility and agency in maintaining nuclear standards, for example – needs an ‘Adult’ mindset. That’s one that’s grounded, situationally aware, problem solving and accountable. Coaching, because it invites people to reflect, think through a course of action, consider different options and make a decision, invites an Adult mindset. (see Ego States model below)

A ‘Parent’ management style with too much ‘tell’ encourages an ‘Adapted Child’ mindset. This can result in people becoming resentful or resistant; a ‘jobsworth’, blaming others or being passive and over compliant – acting without thought or accountability. None of these are helpful in developing personal accountability.

"How coaching supports 'Individual commitment to safety'" bsafebuzz.com. The 'Ego states model, a model of personality in which different elements of the personality - Parent, Adult and Child are used as a way of describing and analysing communication.
“How coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to safety'”. The Ego states model is a model of personality in which different elements of the personality – Parent, Adult and Child – are used to describe and analyse communication. Ego states are ‘consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour’. Parent ego state is split into the two functions Controlling and Nurturing, and Child into the two functions Adapted and Free. Coaching needs an Adult mindset, and invites an Adult ego state response.

Trait: Questioning attitude

The focus of this trait is the importance of avoiding complacency, challenging assumptions and the unknown, and recognising the uniqueness of the nuclear context. 

How coaching can help

A questioning attitude is the essence of coaching – it’s what coaching is all about. Knowing what questions to ask, however, and how to control and structure a conversation is a real skill which takes time and practice to develop. Coaching training develops and refines questioning skills, along with other interpersonal such as listening, non-verbal communication, feedback and goal setting. These skills are valuable for everything from improving the effectiveness of human performance tools to event investigation.

Trait: safety communication

The focus of this trait is on making sure there's broad, open, candid and free flowing communication, up and down the organisation.

How coaching can help

Karl Weick in ‘Organisational Culture as a source of High Reliability’ (California Management Review, Volume XXIX, Number 2, Winter 1987 ) asserts that “accidents occur because the humans who operate and manage complex systems are themselves not sufficiently complex to sense and anticipate the problems generated by those systems”. High reliability organisations need ‘rich, dense talk’ so that humans have the data to understand complex systems. The richest information is gained through face to face interactions.

Use of open questions, the basis of coaching, can increase the richness of face to face communication as it encourages people to talk and share knowledge, thoughts, feelings and concerns. Using coaching interactions encourages the free flow of information, as individuals are asked to think through and share their decision making processes and rationale for action.

Coaching and safety

I hope in this article I’ve done enough to start to convince you that the process of coaching in the nuclear workplace, along with the mindset and skills developed as you learn to coach, and the mindset encouraged in the person being coached, all help to develop and support ‘Individual commitment to Safety’.

Tomorrow I’ll explore coaching’s contribution to the second category ‘Management commitment to safety.