Health and safety… differently
You have to ask yourself… ‘Do you feel lucky?… Well, do you!?’
Tim Marsh discusses the nature of luck and why individuals and organisations need to pro-actively and systemically work to maximise the chances of enjoying a fair share regarding the human factor.
This article is not an attempt to nudge the editor into using a photo of Clint Eastwood as illustration – though it would of course ‘make my day’. Instead, this is an article about some films and TV I watched and some books I read in 2021 that, I’ll argue, are all about the nature of luck and why – in 2022 more than ever – both individuals and organisations really need to pro-actively and systemically work to maximise the chances of enjoying a fair share regarding the human factor. (See the book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed).
My forefathers are all from Cwm, which is a pit village just south of Ebbw Vale. It’s the houses in the foreground of the painting ‘Ebbw Vale’ by LS Lowry. You may not have heard of it, but you’ll probably have heard of its most famous son, the snooker player Mark Williams, three times a world champion. In 2021 Mark was playing in the UK Championships. It’s the second biggest snooker tournament in the world and he was playing well, winning his match 3-2 when he fell asleep in his chair in the middle of the sixth frame… very publicly suffering badly from ‘long-COVID’. Not surprisingly he lost the match and it quite possibly cost him £188,000.
Linked to this, you may have noticed a marked increase in ‘please treat our staff with respect’ notices, when you’re out and about. I certainly have and when I ask, I’m invariably told ‘yes, people seem a lot grumpier and ruder than usual’. Now this might be because we’re fed up of rules and restrictions and the fact that nothing seems to work and/or be available anymore and every sodding phone call I’ve made for years is always, by remarkable coincidence, at a time of ‘unusual call volumes’. However, it also, I’m sure, reflects the fact that fatigue just makes everything worse. It also, of course, makes arguments, bad decisions and accidents far more likely.
In short, fatigue is a major symptom of long-COVID and a huge risk factor any wise organisation will seek to proactively manage in 2022.
A fascinating book about forensic psychology by Kerry Daynes (‘What Lies Buried’) suggests that the world boils down to just two things – pain and love. Previous articles have suggested ways in which organisations can make staff feel – well genuinely valued if not actively loved! This sub section is about the pain though… and we all know that there is plenty of everyday pain going around due to bereavement, failing relationships and 1001 other causes of heartache.
It’s well documented that many have been traumatised and left anxious and uncertain by the pandemic but many people will have barely noticed because they have far bigger issues to deal with. Earlier this year I watched the documentary (‘Football’s Darkest Secret‘) about the sexual abuse of footballers. It’s a truly staggering piece of film making and a powerful reminder that many people fail to make it out of childhood unscathed. (The ONS estimates that around one in five are abused in some way as children and that abused people are five times more likely to struggle as adults in a variety of ways as they suffer from PTSD and vicious circles generally).
The point is that even before COVID, mental health services, especially for young people, were officially ‘failing’ in the UK and quite frankly anyone, of any age, who gets even adequate support is lucky. Following COVID, however, every mental health statistic is heading steeply in the wrong direction – including for NHS staff themselves. With the financial consequences of COVID likely to be with us for a decade or more funding is not likely to improve much despite the endless warm words about mental health being a ‘top priority’.
In short, 2022 would be a really good year to pro-actively look after your wellbeing as adequate support and help will be even harder to come by because almost no-one reading this will be all love and no pain.
‘Blues and Twos 1’ – What Price Justice?
Even before COVID lengthened waiting times books such as ‘The Secret Barrister’ made the case strongly that, following austerity cuts, the legal system in the UK is on its knees. The stunning ‘Four Lives’, about the serial killer Stephen Port, illustrated just how under resourced and (often) under motivated many police forces are. (Ironically, the film seems ludicrously dated to better times. Characters simply walk in to police stations large and small to chat to a desk Sargant. It didn’t do them much good, but they were able to at least speak to someone. In 2021 I could only report an Anker and Marsh incident to police after a month’s attempted calls by queuing with some ‘weekly sign in’ asylum seekers at south Manchester’s only ‘manned desk’. Did us no good either! They pointed us at a different force on a technicality… who pointed us straight back on another!)
In short, 2022 is not a year when you want to be interacting with the legal world. If nothing else you’ll most probably find it very stressful!
‘Blues and Twos 2’ – Where the Hell is the Ambulance?
We all know that hospital waiting lists are at record levels, hospital staff exhausted and ill and the ambulances service feeling close to non-existent. I’m not the only person who, last year, had a 90 year old parent have to wait 12 hours on a cold bathroom floor with a broken hip. (Though see Radio 4’s terrifying ‘Deadly Delays’ for far, far worse examples).
So again, 2022 is a year when keeping your wits about you would be wise and really not a year when you want to be the victim of an incident or accident. Not only that the NHS really needs you to keep well clear please as it clears the backlog!
What to Do?
Well, Malcom Gladwell’s famous book ‘Blink’ has some practical advice for individuals. It discusses the benefit of alertness and intuition and can be summarised as: ‘if you walk into a bar and feel uneasy it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re just about to be jumped… but you’re a bloody idiot if you don’t stand near the door whilst you work out why you feel uneasy”. Or as Britain’s leading spy master put if “trust everyone to set up virtuous circles… just verify everything”. But you can’t just be alert – you have to prepare for it.
Anyone who doesn’t already know how to ‘look after themselves’ regarding key issues like good sleep, healthy diet, positive thinking, resilience building and stress busting exercise, deep breathing and the like is a lost cause frankly! This article is simply suggesting that 2022 would be a really good year for us to maintain those New Year’s resolutions and keep as ‘heads up, wits about you’ as humanly possible!
From an organisational perspective companies need to keep in mind that 2022 may well be a very tough year and proactively roll out holistic and impactful wellbeing processes in a meaningful and embedded way. ‘Bikes and bananas’ tick box initiatives just won’t cut it.
So, the very best of luck to us all and as a worldly-wise desk sergeant once said “Let’s be careful out there”. (And a free copy of my new book to the first reader to leave a comment referencing that quote!).
Read more from Tim in his monthly SHP blog series…
Read more feature content from Tim, here.
What makes us susceptible to burnout?
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.