Canadian Occupational Safety

January/February 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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17 2020 JANUARY/FEBRUARY mental health puzzle and she says that opportunities need to be created for safety professionals to sit down and talk to each other and share their feelings and concerns. "Informal peer support is absolutely critical," she says. A social network is a great way to build resilience, Burych adds. It helps individu- als not feel so alone in their experiences and it provides an opportunity to talk to people who understand what you are going through. If safety profession- als that have gone through some diffi- cult situations can share their experiences and coping strategies, that can be extremely helpful for their peers, she explains. Professional associations are well- positioned to foster such discussions. They should also be regularly inform- ing their members about mental health issues and the resources they have avail- able to support them, says Burych. Kerr notes that an informal sup- port group can also be beneficial. In his case, he is supported by a group of men from his gym who are EMS (emergency medical services) workers. "You can talk candidly about how things are impacting you," he says. "We sit down and just shoot the shit and I listen to their stories and they listen to mine and getting a different perspective does help — but it's really difficult to get people to open up." cent) of survey respondents said they would like to see the mental health of safety professionals being covered in OHS college and university programs. "I think it's imperative that that type of training becomes standardized within our profession," Nault says. "There also needs to be some method of exposing them to what will be traumatic situations. Safety professionals, whether they migrated into that role from another position in the company or they made it a career, they often come in without ever seeing a traumatic incident and just having to deal with it." Industry conferences can also be more involved in promoting strong mental health for safety professionals. "I did a quick scan of conferences that are coming up and no one is talk- ing about the impact on the provider, the caregiver, being the health and safety professional. We need to have more of that conversation with them in the room and them seeing that we acknowledge that they are not infal- lible," Shaw says. "We provide all kinds of support to increase resilience amongst people broadly, but let's do something specifically with health and safety practitioners." When individuals open up about their personal experiences with mental health issues, it can often deeply reso- nate with others. When Kerr saw police officer Brain Knowler speak about his own struggles with PTSD at an Asso- ciation of Electrical Utility Safety Professionals (AEUSP) meeting, that's when he realized he had a problem. "He completely nailed everything I was going through: all the emotional rollercoasters, the anger, the anxiety," Kerr says. "He finished his presenta- tion, talked about what happened to him and I had to get up and do an industry update on the electrical rules, but I couldn't do it. And I am a pre- senter; I've presented my whole life and I've never had any issue like that. I got up and tried to talk to this group of safety professionals and I just started to cry and couldn't stop." Safety professionals can be invalu- able in helping each other navigate difficult circumstances. Shaw notes that this is a critical piece to the SEEKING HELP The very nature of a safety profes- sional's job might make it rather challenging to seek help for mental health issues. They are so used to caring for others that it can be hard to care for themselves. "One of the big factors is they need to be that port in the storm. But because they are trying to do that, in some ways you are closing yourself off to your own emotions while you deal with that," Nault says. Safety professionals might also be grappling with some guilt and feel- ing like there is no time to take care of themselves when they have so many other people to take care of, says Burych. In Kerr's case, he was used to making sure processes were in place to help employees recover after a workplace incident, but he never thought of himself. While assisting a utility in Newfoundland, a therapist was hired to help employees through a workplace fatality and one day, while having coffee with Kerr, she said, "Now we have to talk to you." "It was like someone punched me in the back of the head and I was like, 'What do you mean you have to talk to me? I'm here to help people.' And that was one of the first times that I real- ized I had never even thought about it. Shortly after that I realized I was headed for a wall, but I couldn't see it." Although it might not be second nature, it's very important for safety pro- fessionals to take care of their mental health. If they are struggling to make this commitment simply for their own good, they should do it for the good of the organization, says Burych. "When you role model safety for 50 % occasionally take time off work for mental health purposes 60 % have a peer support network of fellow safety professionals yourself and take care of yourself, then you are actually taking care of others," she says. "When we're not role mod- elling safety for ourselves and we're struggling, we might not be top of our game and we might put ourselves or others at work at risk or jeopardy." Kerr suggests thinking about the long-term costs of not getting the help you need. It not only affects you men- tally, but it can have negative impacts on your relationships, including with close friends and family. When Kerr told his wife about his mental health struggles, she responded, "I know," and it was clear that she and his two children were painfully aware of his situation. "Where it goes sideways is in your personal life and when you are by yourself," Kerr says. Now, Kerr is enjoying his role at Burlington Hydro, a small utility company with an excellent safety culture. The company has not had a lost-time injury since 2012, so most of Kerr's job is complementing the systems already in place. While he still gets calls from the utilities industry for rule clarification, they have stopped calling him for help with fatalities. Although this is much better for his mental health, Kerr says he misses being the "go-to" guy and still struggles with feelings of guilt for having to leave his old job. "I feel really guilty that I left IHSA because it was a big gap when I left because of the history I had of writ- ing the rules and knowing where the rules came from. All that history was basically gone when I walked out the door," he says. "But I know I couldn't do that forever." COS Source: "The Mental Health of Safety Professionals," a survey of 400 COS readers, September 2019

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