Safety Reps do not just ensure the physical safety of workplaces, but also deal with the issues surrounding mental health – stress, anxiety, depression – at work, often due to working conditions; but also due to the lack of understanding of managers and even work colleagues.
Sometimes such problems lead to terrible consequence and the loss of life.
Area Safety Rep, Jamie McGovern of CWU’s Greater Mersey Amal Branch knows too well that dealing with mental health issues requires risk assessment the workplace and of individual circumstances, both at work and sometimes outside of work.
Having adopted a method of risk assessment which he knows can help in the workplace and alleviate the lack of understanding about mental health amongst management and help to avoid the downward spiral that mental health problems can create in individuals affected, and indeed save lives; Jamie was invited to give a presentation to the delegates at the North West Regional Conference held in Manchester last week.
Speaking to Unionsafety, Jamie said:
"As a society, we spend a huge portion of our lives at work. And when we’re there, we often present an image of ourselves, keen to show the skills, talent and personality
that we believe other people want to see! It often feels as if the most valued team members are those with "tough skins" who
seem able to brush aside stress. "Sink or swim", "fight or flight"… these are all
phrases that help no-one and simply fuel the notion that we must be robots to be
Explaining why it is very important for all Safety Reps to be involved in the Mental Health Risk Assessment process, and in support of the CWU's Health and Safety Department's work on Mental Health Awareness, Jamie added:
"A simple conversation can change a life, work pressure can effect even the most resolute members of our union.
We are working to change the way we all think and act about mental health. We've already reached and supported many people in our branch area and we’ve seen progress and an improvement in attitudes and behaviour towards Mental Health.
Despite the progress we’ve made, we know that many people still don’t consider mental health relevant to them. They don’t believe mental health problems are likely to affect them or people they know, however mental health problems are a common human experience."
The presentation was given by Jamie with support of his colleague Mark Evans, and was received with great interest, given that the Union is currently giving mental health at work support one of its major priorities. It can be downloaded by clicking on the pic below.
One of the main issues in Jamie’s presentation is that of the fact that mental health problems can be debilitating in every sense of the word and therefore should be seen as a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
Jamie detailed the Mental Health Risk Assessment process and the risk areas to take into account, making the point that each case is different and there will be areas of risk specific to the workplace and the individual concerned.
He then went on to list examples of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that management can implement and gave an example case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and what could be put in place to help keep the person in work.
Jamie told unionsafety:
" The known facts are that:
• Most people know someone who has experienced a mental health problem.
"Mind’s recent Workplace Wellbeing Index revealed that 48% of people had experienced poor mental health in their current workplace and rates of anxiety and depression among UK employees have risen by nearly a third since 2013."
One of the most misunderstood mental health conditions, Autism, was also discussed along with the use of ‘quiet rooms’ that individuals can utilise at work in order to relax and obtain support information. This in itself helps to create an Autism friendly workplace.
In closing the presentation, Jamie’s last slide was simple but effective in its message:
‘When I becomes we, illness becomes Wellness’
But perhaps the most important message from Jamie is his final words to Unionsafety on the issue, is this:
"It’s simply not enough to donate to charities or take part in events. We need to create and maintain a sustained, consistent culture where mental health is fully supported."
Source: Jamie McGovern / unionsafety / Derek Maylor (event pics)