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

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

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. https://neweconomics.org/2008/10/five-ways-to-wellbeing-the-evidence

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 https://neweconomics.org/2014/03/wellbeing-at-work. 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 Ihttps://bsafebuzz.com/2019/02/14/transitioning-to-iso-45001-four-things-you-need-to-know-about-organisational-culture/ 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 info@beecld.co.uk

**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 info@beecld.co.uk or go to https://www.beecld.co.uk/ILM-Coaching-Mentoring

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

Transitioning to ISO 45001 – four things you need to know about organisational culture

Find out why an organisational culture change initiative is like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’

In my blog post ‘Why ISO 45001 is a safety revolution’ I mentioned the key differences between ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001. One of them is the need to understand the cultural context of the organisation and what drives it – an aspect of ISO 45001 which has no equivalent in OHSAS 18001. As an organisational development consultancy, organisational culture is the backdrop to everything that we do – if you work in an organisation it’s the back drop to everything you do too. It’s also something that is often misunderstood. To understand organisational culture, you need to know the following four things. Hopefully, when you do, this will help you to ‘build in’ not ‘bolt on’ safety to organisational culture.

Before we begin, here’s a question:

What is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’?

You’ll have to wait till the end of the blog for the answer, but here’s the first thing you need to know about culture:

1. It’s complex

Organisations are ‘complex systems’ – open systems to be exact. The ‘systems’ bit means that all the different parts of an organisation are connected, so something happening in one area impacts on the others through the ripple effect. The ‘open’ bit means all those parts are also connected to the outside, so changes outside impact inside. The ‘complex’ bit is that the connections between the parts aren’t necessarily obvious or even visible, so the impact of changes inside or outside can be unpredictable. In addition, organisations are constantly moving and changing as internal and external conditions change. All of which make organisations, and therefore culture, complex.

2. It has breadth

From bsafebuzz.com 'Transitioning to ISO 45001 - four things you need to know about organisational culture' - a blog post to help those wanting to 'build in' not 'bolt on' safety to organisational culture. How all the different elements of an organisation are connected through core values, the beating heart of the organisation.
Beehive SySTERMS Model showing formal connections through the core values of the organisation

Culture encompasses everything in and about an organisation. It isn’t held in HR, it isn’t a ‘thing’ that is ‘bolted on’ – that sits alongside strategy or in corporate – it is everything. The structure of the organisation, its strategy, the systems, the employees and training, management, resources, and the patterns of how these functions interact – all of these are part of the culture. So, culture is both complex, and it has breadth.

3. It has depth

Most of organisational culture is invisible – held at what’s called the ‘psychological’ level. Like an iceberg, part of it is above the surface but more of it is below. This means you’re unlikely to be aware of it most of the time because it’s just ‘the way we do things round here’. In fact the only time people are really aware of the culture is in the first two to three months of a new job, or after a merger where two cultures are brought closely together!

The things above the surface include what you can touch, like the uniforms, offices and reception areas, company cars, PPE, for example, and what you can see like the branding, and behaviours – how employees speak to and treat each other, how conflict is dealt with, what happens in meetings, etc.

Below the surface are the intangible and invisible parts of culture – the collective mindset, attitudes, beliefs and values that drive organisational behaviours. What’s above provides the clues to what’s below. A great example of this are the ‘symbols of power’.

'Transitioning To ISO 45001' - four things you need to know about organisational culture to make it easier. If you want to make a cultural change it's helpful to know these four things before you begin. Understanding the complexities and the multi level nature of culture means you can anticipate and plan more effectively.

‘Symbols of power’ are the things that demonstrate who and what’s important – who gets a parking space or company car, who gets the best office, the state of the works canteen, helmet colour, who’s late for meetings without comment. There can be a difference between what’s said, in the mission statement or company values, and what’s done – that difference is part of the culture too. If you want to know the real values, look at what happens, not what’s said. For example, on the Niceberg, CEO Mr C Gull is giving friendly fish a V sign despite the mission statement ‘to be nice’.

4. It has a fourth dimension – time

In the same way that our past experiences shape us as a person and influence how we feel about what’s happening in the present, past organisational events impact on how employees respond to what’s happening in the present too. If there has been a poorly executed job evaluation in the past where employees felt undervalued, for example, the next time a significant change is introduced there may be more resistance. Past events and the feelings associated with them are communicated through stories told that can develop into powerful organisational myths. These can be exaggerated over time, and rarely challenged.

So in a nutshell:

In order to transition to ISO45001 you need to understand the cultural context. To help you do this you need to know: organisational culture is complex. Organisational parts – functions, teams, departments, sites – are interconnected, and therefore interdependent. The connections aren’t linear, though, or immediately obvious or even visible because they include what’s under the surface too; collective values, attitudes, beliefs, emotions and experiences. Most of culture is held in that out of awareness place – what’s above the surface only provides the clues to it. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, but the bigger the organisation the more complex it is.

Example – introducing a questioning attitude on site

  • Introducing a questioning attitude sounds straightforward – you tell people, if you’re uncertain or think something is unsafe, ask a question or challenge. But for it to be most effective, and referring to the Beehive SySTERMS Model:
  • Employees need to have the communication skills and confidence to challenge constructively – asking ‘what the f***!’ isn’t what’s needed here (Employees).
  • If employees are recruited on the basis of technical skills alone this may not be the case (HR SYstems).
  • If the training function has a technical focus there may not be the capability within the organization to develop the communication skills needed (Training).
  • If soft skills are not seen as important (Values) there may not be the money made available for soft skills development (Resources).
  • Managers need to have the awareness and confidence to deal constructively with questioning and challenge (Management).
  • In traditional hierarchies where managers tell and others do (Structure), having employees question may feel like too big a challenge to ‘how we do things round here’ (Values).
  • An employee who questions a manager in this environment is taking a big risk.
  • If someone questions and is knocked back, that story could become part of company folklore where it can act as a barrier to change.

So, how does all this answer the question: why is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’?

Answer – Because they are both started with the best of intentions, but rarely finished.

They’re both rarely finished because people underestimate the amount of time, commitment and energy required to finish them. In a short-term, fast-changing world anything that doesn’t create immediate results is likely to be side-lined, and the importance of ‘soft’ power, and the intangible elements of culture are often not taken into account in the planning. This can result in a re-structure, but with the same core values, beliefs and mindset, and therefore the same behaviours, causing the same problems.

First steps in culture change

To truly ‘build it in’, safety has to become a core organisational value – running through the organisation like words through a stick of rock; role-modelled by directors, adequately resourced and measured, a key part of business strategy, the backdrop to every decision made. The good thing is the shift from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001 shows that that is now recognised – it is the future of safety.

Beehive SySTERMS Model – building safety in, not bolting it on

What are your experiences of culture change or behaviour change? Do any of these four things ring true for you? I’d be interested in your examples.

PS Beehive is running a free safety culture seminar as part of its ‘b.SAFE@Brathay’ partnership at Brathay in Cumbria on March 29th 2019. We’ll share the results of our research with Bangor university into organisational culture, and our trust-based safety culture model, the D2iT. For more information please contact info@beecld.co.uk.

Beehive is working in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear (NSAN), providing one-day ‘Coaching to Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. The next workshop is on June 12th 2019, venue tbc. For more details please contact Stacy Balmer:stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk

The first step in any change is a gap analysis – identify where you are now and where you want to be so you can plan the next steps. There are many ways of doing this – an ISO 45001 audit, a safety culture analysis, or a more general cultural 360 like the OCI, the Organisational Culture Inventory. For more information contact info@beecld.co.uk