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:

Mindset

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.

Skills

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

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

How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

b.SAFE Bitesize - a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – ‘How Safety Can Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’

In this podcast, the first of a series of four, Sara Lodge describes how coaching supports the development of a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Coaching

As both an activity and a management style, coaching has, over the last 20 years, become a mainstay of organisational development. This is because it:

  • increases accountability,
  • improves morale,
  • increases productivity
  • and increases well being, among other advantages, in both coaches and those they coach.

The benefits of coaching to the world of health and safety are also being more widely recognised. Because of this, IOSH, among other bodies, is promoting ‘Coaching for Safety’ programmes to support safety practitioners in their roles.

Nuclear sector

The nuclear sector has fallen behind in this. While much has been made of the need for a safety culture specific to the needs of the nuclear sector, there seems to be little recognition that development of these traits require a different set of skills to technical. This is something that we’ve noticed in our work in highly regulated sectors. While cultural or behavioural change initiatives may be outlined in detail, the skills required to achieve them aren’t. Therefore, while money may be spent on change programmes, because little money or effort is put into developing the skills essential to their success, the programmes fail, or are not as successful as they could be.

Coaching skills

I argue that coaching skills, which incorporate:

  • goal- and outcome setting
  • active listening
  • questioning skills including open, interrogative, exploratory, probing, confirmatory and challenging questioning
  • summarising and consensus building
  • collaborative problem solving and action learning
  • empathy and relationship building
  • constructive challenge
  • feedback and appraisal
  • reflective practice

Nuclear safety culture

Are all vital to building the kind of nuclear safety culture traits which evidence shows are needed to avoid major events, and I’d argue to investigate them.

Listen to hear the first part of my explanation why.

It’s time for a ‘soft’ SQEP*

* ‘Suitably Qualified and Experienced Person’

A couple of years ago I gave a presentation to the North Wales IOSH branch on behavioural safety and safety culture. There were 70 people – their biggest turnout in four years.

As part of the presentation I showed the following slide and said, ‘OK, these were the answers, so what was the question?’

what-makes-a-1

The response was immediate – ‘the attributes of a good manager’, which is true. The actual question was ‘What makes a good supervisor/site manager?’ and I asked it of fitters, supervisors and site managers as part of research I undertook with Bangor University and Alstom Power Services (see my blog ‘We need a new approach to safety education’). Further discussion showed that there was wide recognition that these attributes in supervisors and managers helped to reduce error and error pre-cursors and supported other behavioural safety elements such as open reporting, questioning attitude, stop the line and human performance. So far, so good.

However, when I asked, ‘So how many of you and your organisations actually recruit or train for these attributes in your engineers, supervisors, QHSE managers or site managers?’, the answer was – none. That’s quite an incongruence – while it is widely recognised that these attributes play a significant role in creating a safe working environment, this recognition was not reflected in recruitment or training practices.

Communicating culture

In 2011 The Work Foundation published a report entitled ‘Good Work and Our Times’ in which it emphasised the role of first-line management in communicating culture in an organisation. Supervisors and managers are the people who create the day to day experience of the employees working for your organisation, who set the behavioural examples, who create the climate in which safety is carried out, who have the awesome responsibility of setting people to work in dangerous environments. They are the people who put into practice the organisation’s culture on the front line.

Yet how many of them understand that this is a  crucial part of their role? And how many of them are suitably qualified and experienced to do this, equipped with the knowledge of human behaviour and motivation, team behaviours, communication skills and with the emotional resilience, to fulfil this role?

b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive’s flagship leadership programme – the b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive designed  a behavioural safety programme – the b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme – based on the research results for Alstom Power Services which resulted in significant changes to behaviours in first line supervision and management. Those changes had a significant effect on results, but the effects were further reaching. Once the behaviours became embedded it became apparent that the agency fitters used did not have the behaviours that Alstom now required. The drive and initiative of QHSE manager Mick Edwards, who was at the forefront of the behaviour change project, led to us working with the agencies rpoviding the fitters-introducing the behavioural model, explaining the need for a different approach to recruitment, and giving guidance on how to interview for behaviours. In short, introducing a whole new perspective on what being SQEP – suitably qualified and experienced for a role – meant.

The D2iP is now our flagship programme and we’ve delivered it in the power and rail sectors to excellent results.

Better recruitment cheaper than training

It is far cheaper to recruit people with the right attitudes and behaviours than it is to change the behaviours and attitudes of people already in role. This extends to recruiting people who are open to learning and change. But first these attributes and behaviours have to be taken seriously by the organisation in relation to risk and safety. They have to become part of the organisation’s criteria for recruitment, and those recruiting have to understand why and how to interview for behaviours and attitudes, as well as technical or operational qualifications and experience. Which leads to the question – is it time for ‘soft’ SQEP?

Join us on September 26th and November 18th 2019 for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. They’ve been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear

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.

Join us on September 26th and November 18th 2019 for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. They’ve been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear