Yesterday Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne spoke at the monthly networking meeting of the Central Safety Group in Australia. His presentation was based around his research into job stress and its relationship with mental health.
LaMontagne was talking about the dominant position in personnel management where negative thoughts generate a negative working environment, one of stress, dissatisfaction and lower productivity. SafetyAtWorkBlog asked whether this was the basis for many of the positive attitudinal programs, or behaviour-based safety programs, that are frequently spruiked to the modern corporations.
He said that this was the case and that such programs can have a positive affect on people’s attitudes to work. But LaMontagne then expressed one of those ideas that can only come from outside an audience’s general field of expertise. He said that the limitations of such programs are that they focus on the individual in isolation from their work. He wondered how successful such a program will be in the long-term if a worker returns from a “happiness class” to a persistently large workload or excessive hours. The benefits of the positive training are likely to be short-lived.
This presented the suggestion that positive training programs, those professing resilience, leadership, coping skills and a range of other psychological synonyms, may be the modern equivalent of “blaming the worker”. The big risk of this approach to safety is that it ignores the relationship of the worker with the surrounding work environment and management resources and policies. Even the worker who is furthest from head office does not work in isolation.
It is unclear what the positive training programs aim to achieve. Teaching coping skills provides the worker with ways of coping with work pressures, but what if those pressures are unfair or unreasonable? What if those pressures included bullying, harassment, excessive workloads? Will the employer be meeting their OHS obligations for a safe and healthy working environment by having workers who can cope with these hazards rather than addressing those hazards themselves?
Professor LaMontagne reminded the OHS professionals in attendance yesterday that the aim of OHS is to eliminate the hazards and not to accommodate them. He asked whether an OHS professional would be doing their job properly if they only handed out earplugs and headphones rather than try to make the workplace quieter?
Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog received an email about a new stress management program that involves “performance enhancement, changing the way people view corporate team dynamics”. Evidence was requested on the measurable success of the program. No evidence on the program was available but one selling point was that the company had lots of clients. This type of stress management sales approach came to mind when listening to Professor Montagne.
When preparing to improve the safety performance of one’s company consider the whole of the company’s operations and see what OHS achievements may be possible. Think long-term for structural and organisational change and resist the solutions that have the advantage of being visible to one’s senior executives but short on long-term benefits.
And be cautious of the type of approaches one may receive along the lines of programs that can change
“…high performance habits so employees can operate at 100% engagement and take their achievement to the next level while achieving a healthier culture in the workplace”.
Note: Kevin Jones is a life member of the Central Safety Group. The CSG is just finalising its website (http://www.centralsafetygroup.com/)where information of forthcoming meetings will be available.