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.
May 13, 2024

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

The tim marsh blog

Personality, safety and risk management

Tim Marsh and Mark Wilkinson, Managing Director of consultancy firm, Hillmont Associates, takes a look at personality styles, traits of fatigue and their relation to human error risk management.

The notion of an ‘accident prone’ worker has always been a controversial one. Not just from a ‘don’t blame the victim’ perspective but also, especially, amongst those of us that take a ‘just culture’ view – one based on the evidence that suggests 90% of what happens at work is driven by the environment rather than the individual.

stressWe also know that the four biggest causes of ‘having a bad day’ syndrome are largely generic and to a greater or lesser extent outside of the control of the individual. These are: worries brought into work from home or caused by work (relationships, financial or health, health issues), fatigue, mental health and finally, organisational culture and practises. (Or just not being well matched to what you’re doing for a living).

To a degree, these issues might, of course, be due entirely to luck.

However, some people, you may have noticed, seem to have far worse luck than others (!) and this can be down to unhelpful habits and mindsets which may well be driven to a great extent by personality.

An illustrative exercise we like is to ask a hall full of people how prone to road rage they are. To what extent they see others as ‘fellow road users’ and to what extent ‘annoying idiots frustrating me by getting in my bloody way’. Split into two groups a simple head count of bumps, scrapes and penalty points often gives spectacularly different group scores! (And note this in an environment that’s pretty much identical for all).

Risk and fatigue

We’ve long known that tired people have identical physiology to drunk people.

Regardless of personality they tend to be easily distracted, impetuous and socially and physically clumsy. In short, accidents waiting to happen and a well-known, if not always well addressed, risk factor. (Though again, this isn’t a risk issue in isolation – some people’s habits and mind-sets are highly likely to leave them more fatigues than others).

However, addressing the day-to-day risks associated with the 1 in 5 of us ‘struggling’ at any one time with our mental health is a newer subject.

Further reading: Psychological safety – Why doesn’t it happen naturally?

The mental health and risk controversy

Five years ago, Tim published an article in a major safety journal that went through several anxious committees worried about a backlash.

The point of the article was that if one in five of us is ‘struggling’ at any given time then that’s a lot of potential risk as research over the years has shown that people having bad days are more likely to be fatalistic, more likely to be distracted / preoccupied and low in situation awareness and more likely to have bad interactions and make bad decisions.

Logically analysing and explaining the underlying causality attracted not a single complaint.

In short, we are now at a place where we know treating all human error related risk as homogenous is far too simplistic. Make than machine easy to use and take regular breaks is base just base one.

We’re all different and we all fluctuate in our individual risk profile. Which brings us to day-to-day personality which applies to not just the ‘1 in 5’ strugglers but to absolutely everyone!

Risk and personality

Imagine you’re on a plane with your children and you find out the pilot is impetuous, aggressive, low in conscientiousness, spontaneously creative and easily distracted. On top of that easily rattled and prone to overreaction – even on a good day! Would you perhaps care to switch them for someone the exact opposite? We thought you might…

In recent years, much work has been done to look at more nuanced personality issues and how (less obviously problematic) people react to different situations in different ways – and the risks associated with this.

Recently, Anker and Marsh have been collaborating with Mark Wilkinson (best-selling author of ‘Life Remixed’) who’s works in the personality field (and who Jason and Tim are running an open workshop at Heathrow Airport on the 12th of June).

Credit: FortyTwo/Unsplash

There are many personality profile systems in use but the one Mark prefers to use is Equilibria – you may well have seen their coloured wristbands on your travels. At its most simple people with Blue or Green as their dominant colour tend to be introverted and happier with their own company.

Typically, they think before they act. However, those with Red or Yellow dominant tend to be more extroverted. They usually act first, then think and reflect later … and when was that ever risky?!

A proper individual analysis is hugely more interrelated and nuanced of course and the basic premise is that every individual’s personality style has both potential strengths and weaknesses.

These can, of course, impact directly on safety and often rather more subtlety than the simplistic ‘iffy’ pilot example above.

“The person wanted to speak up but felt they ‘just couldn’t’ and this led directly to a serious workplace incident”

For example, Mark once worked with a Yellow / Blue personality style who, typical of that profile, was a real people pleaser. Of course, people pleasers don’t like to offend or upset and are very wary of potential conflict.

In this case, a situation arose where the person wanted to speak up but felt they ‘just couldn’t’ and this led directly to a serious workplace incident. Or consider the famous process safety example (see Andrew Hopkins’ book ‘Disastrous Decisions’) where even more cuts and savings were demanded by senior BP leadership. Initially, the site management of a refinery in the south USA were the most helpful and compliant. I’m sure you don’t need us to tell you that refinery was called Texas City.

Whilst such Yellow / Blues people pleasing instincts can, of course, be hugely welcome among colleagues it can also lead to the individual hardly ever saying no and so oft taking on far too much and in time becoming distracted, tired, stressed and overwhelmed. (Especially if they’re genuinely being taken advantage of and begin to feel resentful).

Tweak that personality by adding in a bit of red and that slow internal burnout implosion can instead manifest as something of a sudden explosion … and we’ve all seen the you tube clips of attacks on jammed photocopiers and the like!

Of course, the permutations are as endless as they are fascinating.

So if you’d like to come along and find out what your personality style is and in which ways you’re most likely to hurt yourself and/or others then do sign up for the workshop as in short, understanding people’s potential strengths and weakness can really help take a holistic, pro-active and inter-related approach to human error risk management.

Jason Anker and Tim Marsh will be giving their overview talks about what’s most likely to go wrong, why and what the world’s leading organisations are doing about it. (And where individual personality fits in) on 12 June at the Unlock the WHAT, WHO, WHY & HOW of behavioural & psychological safety event. Then it’s over to Mark to consider which individuals are most likely to contribute what! (Quote SHPOnline for a 20% discount).

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.


Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments