Anker & Marsh

Author Bio ▼

Dr Tim Marsh PhD, MSc, CFIOSH, CPsychol, SFIIRSM is MD of Anker and Marsh. Visiting Professor at Plymouth University he is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture.As well as many of the world's most recognisable industrial names Tim has worked with diverse organisations such as the European Space Agency, the BBC, Sky TV, the RNLI and the National Theatre in his 25 year plus consultancy career.He has key noted and chaired dozens of conferences around the world including the closing key note at the Campbell Institutes inaugural International Thoughts Leaders event in 2014. He has written several best-selling books including Affective Safety Management, Talking Safety, Total Safety Culture, the Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety and Organised Wellbeing. Previously he led Manchester Universities ground-breaking research team into behavioural safety methodologies in the 1990s.
September 22, 2023

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Post-webinar Q&A: Tim Marsh answers your questions around health and wellbeing

Following a successful wellbeing webinar, co-host Tim Marsh responds to post-event questions about human factors, measuring culture and becoming human-focused.

CREDIT Nicola Suttle/Alamy Stock Photo

A recent webinar in association with Proud2bsafe advised attendees on their approach to health and wellbeing by measuring and changing culture. The four speakers, Jason Anker MBE and his daughter Abbi Taylor; Matt Hazleton and Tim Marsh each presented ideas around mental health, drawing on their own personal experiences while exploring the science behind emotional wellbeing. The session was occasionally emotional, always informative, and unsurprisingly inundated with questions. Many of which the panel was unable to answer. As such, we’re delighted to say Tim Marsh was able to pick up a handful of those questions offline and answer them for us below.

Q: How do we change the culture if Senior Management is not interested? Does it only work top-down?

Tim Marsh (TM): This is quite an easy one to answer. The truth is that while top-down and bottom-up is the ideal pincer movement you’ll really struggle to achieve anything but pockets of excellence, and/or short-term success in the face of senior management indifference. My advice…find somewhere better to work.

QHuman factors is a broad church. How do we make it harder for things to go wrong and easier for things to go right?

TM: This is a $64,000 question if ever there was one. In summary, you need an ergonomist and a psychologist working together but both essentially asking the same questions of the same people – they being the people that do the actual work and are in the line of fire of the risk. For example, when things have gone wrong ask ‘why?’ curiously not aggressively, knowing, that from a Just Culture analysis, 90% of the time the answer will be useful and that you can minimise defensiveness. More proactively, we can ask, ‘Is there anything slow, uncomfortable or inconvenient about doing this job in a safe and healthy way?’ Finally, the Safety Differently core question: ‘I want you to work hard and safely – what do you need from me to be able to do that?’

More generally, as well as objective and proactive learning (as above), we need leadership to be communicated with clarity and integrity. We need as much praise as is viable (as it’s about 20 times more effective than criticism). Likewise, as much coaching as is viable (rather than telling), as this is also much more effective in changing behaviour – and hence culture. Finally, we need leadership to remember to always lead by example whether they want to be or not – so they might as well do it well!

Q: Can you tell me about measuring culture?
TM: Culture is essentially about behaviour and mindset and both can be measured – either by observing or by asking representative samples of employees in confidential circumstances. Therefore, everything we’ve discussed, whether about safety or wellbeing, can be measured then benchmarked and/or tracked.

We all know how to manage risk…but many organisations are simply not applying basic risk management principles to psychological safety

Q: How do you consciously become human-focused rather than system-obsessed?

TM: Again, this is relatively straightforward. The organisation simply needs to ask itself, ‘Have we hit diminishing returns with regards to rules and regulations?’. The answer to this question can come, of course, from a formal culture survey – as above – or it can come from sitting in a canteen and asking the people who have to implement the rules. If people laugh and/or make reference to, for example, the ‘blob’, then you have your answer! Then you simply need to proactively undertake the behaviours or train staff to undertake the behaviours described in question two above, and then follow up and embed that training. Note that 80% of training efficacy is in the follow-up and embedding, but that’s a separate article!

Q: Self-care is important but not everyone will accept that they need to do this and that addressing psychological risk is more important. 

TM: Another huge topic which overlaps with real life etc. (I’ll not address sleep, relationships, diet, or fitness, except to say that the organisation can of course supply education and resources that help. This might be financial management lunchtime talks, gyms, free fruit etc. All are very welcome but less so where management feels such ‘bikes and bananas’ initiatives have the issue covered. Having colleagues talk to staff proactively in a coaching style can help individual insight and volition of course about self-care. More than that having a learning and empowering culture that delivers the benefit of ‘good work is good for you’ really helps).

See the previous question for a definition of good work – though cross reference with Warr’s vitamin model to help personalise that for an individual.

A really simple example of applying the good old-fashioned safety hierarchy to psychological risk is as follows: People who have to screen online content might well be able to see that it’s clearly inappropriate without also needing to hear it. So, the mute default of helps with the psychological impact.

Indeed, this is a decent example of an ongoing frustration. We all know how to manage risk…but many organisations are simply not applying basic risk management principles to psychological safety.

Q: Should we train mental health first aiders (MHFA)? I worry this might blur the lines with HR? Ultimately, I worry that staff taking on this extra role will be faced with situations they’re not able to deal with.

TM: Dame Carol Black and others are getting increasingly sceptical about the MHFA approach – not because it’s a bad idea per se, but because many organisations are doing it as a tick box/magic bullet approach. An example of their limitations: You work in a steelworks with noxious gases, hot metal spitting, forklift trucks being driven around like it’s a Grand Prix all wrapped up in a horrible, blame-driven management culture. A handful of first-aiders (no matter how motivated and skilled) are not going to help much. The same is true in the stress field – far, far better to not damage people in the first place than to train people in patching up the walking the wounded from the field.

However,  if we can take a genuinely holistic approach then what we can aim for is that everyone looks out for each other. Ideally, therefore, everyone will be trained in some basics – from generics like listening skills, to how to hold a coaching conversation about mental health. For example, if you have personal experience best practice is to not necessarily share it but to use it to power empathic listening. Our own CER model is Curious Empathy Reflect (e.g. basic coaching to encourage this) or Refer. The latter, when it’s clear that more than a good chat is needed. At this point, we of course need to point to occupational health, employee assistance or even the NHS.

My view: Yes, there will be times when even a CER-style approach designed to have as few unintended consequences as possible will backfire. However, the many, many positives of such a holistic approach, I argue, vastly outweighs any negatives and is simply far better all around than the traditional ‘best leave to HR and occupational health’ approach.

Good work is good for you, bad work is bad for you. In the vast majority of day-to-day cases, this has little to do with HR and lots to do with colleagues and leadership.

Discover more…

  • Listen to a podcast from Proud2BSafe on the link between mental health and accidents at work here.
  • You can view the webinar, A practical approach to health and wellbeing – measure and change your culture, on-demand by clicking here.
  • Read Tim Marsh’s article on wellbeing and if it sits with the safety professional or HR, here.

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Nigel Evelyn-dupree
Nigel Evelyn-dupree
8 months ago

Expediency, expediency of not measuring / testing a required metric in terms of predictability of occupational health hazards and risks and/or product accessibility.