Mental Health, Stress Injury, Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety Hazards present just as much of a safety risk as Physical Safety Hazards in the workplace.  If we wouldn’t ignore someone sitting in front of us with a broken leg, then we must treat someone’s Psychological Safety with same care, empathy, and respect.  To learn more about some common (reasonably foreseeable) Psychological Hazards present at our worksites, click the tabs above.  For ideas on how to get started, check out the additional information below the video.

In the Entertainment & Live Event Industry, Fatigue is our not-so-secret dirty little secret.  In many situations, Fatigue and our ability to function whilst exhausted is seen as a badge of honor and ability.  The science is pretty clear: being awake for 16-18 hours produces the same level of impairment as having a blood alcohol level of between 0.08- 0.1 (above the legal limit for driving).  Other industries such as the airline & trucking industries have clear rules on work hours due to the increased hazard of operating a plane or truck whilst fatigued.  Do you really want to be walking under 100,000 lbs of rigging equipment that was hung by a team who hasn’t slept in 36 hours?

Stress Injury is a real phenomenon that is generally caused when someone is exposed to extended periods of chronic & acute stressors.  One helpful way to think about this is in a similar fashion to a physical injury.  Chronic & Acute Stress can cause physiological changes in the brain.  Imagine a bruise on the brain which keeps getting re-injured every time it is exposed to additional stressors.  It is slow to recover or heal and if “bruised” repeatedly may never recover to how it was before it was injured.  As with any form of injury hazard, the most effective form of mitigation is to reduce or eliminate the hazard; but first, we have to recognize and acknowledge the hazard exists and not just treat it as part of our industry culture.

Unfortunately many of us have witnessed or experienced incidents of Harassment & Bullying whilst working in the Entertainment & Live Events Industry. There are too many stories being told where it has been accepted as part of the culture or the price of a job.  Many people working in our industry work from job to job; their livelihoods are vulnerable and expecting them to stand up to workplace Harassment & Bullying means that we are putting the focus in the wrong place.  Another term for Harassment & Bullying is Psychological Violence; if we ignore it, we are ignoring a hazard and that puts our teams in harm’s way.  Working together we have the power to start the process of cultural change so that it’s no longer about people impacted standing up for themselves, but all of us accepting our responsibility to look out for each other.

Resilience is often associated with terms such as “living your best life” (ugh! another thing to fail at).  The conversation centers around how the individual can in essence be “tougher” or better able to cope with adversity.  The Entertainment & Live Events Industry has no shortage of people who are willing to go “above & beyond,” often at a significant personal cost.  People in our industry exhibit many resilient behaviors; the real problem is the “normal” demands placed upon on them.  If you think of 40 hours a week as kind of “cheating” or “quiet” then it is your experience of normal that is the likely hazard – not a lack of resilience.  True resilience occurs at the group and cultural level and is designed to help people through challenges that naturally ebb and flow.  If your volume is already turned up to “eleven” then your individual capacity to cope may not be the problem.

It can be intimidating to talk about Mental Health and Psychological Safety; you may understandably be afraid of saying the wrong thing and making things worse.  The evidence shows that it is, in fact, not having the conversation at all that causes the most harm.  The first step is acknowledging that it is a conversation worth starting.  There are plenty of resources, including us, that can help you with some specific ideas and language.

Like the video says, one day maybe we won’t talk separately about mental & physical health but rather just health.  Part of reaching that goal is letting people know that it is OK to not be OK.  Talk about available resources and about the challenges of the day.  If you feel safe and able to do so, acknowledging any of your own experiences can have a significant impact on others.  You don’t have to give a blow by blow account, (and you do need to be mindful of others’ safety if you talk about specific or potentially harrowing details); however, simply acknowledging that you have some experience can send a powerful message.

Cultural change takes time and is often incremental at best.  Twenty + years ago very few people in our industry wore harnesses when working at height and those who did were sometimes ridiculed.  The problems of Fatigue, Stress, Job Insecurity, Harassment & Bullying may seem overwhelming but with your help, twenty years from now we hope that people will be amazed that anyone was ever ridiculed for trying.  Join us. 

Ask yourself this question: “Would I want a child I care about working in our industry?”.  For all that is good, many of us may answer no, or at the very least, pause, before answering.  The truth is, that that “pause” tells us a lot about what we have to do make our job sites safer.  10 years ago we rarely saw safety vests and hard hats or safety briefings; now they are slowly becoming more common.  To make our spaces safer, we need to follow this simple formula:

Physical Safety + Psychological Safety = Safer Spaces

Additional Resources

Click on Icons for WebLinks

The National Suicide Prevention HotlIne

CRisis Textline

Text HOME to 741741 to Connect with a Crisis Counselor

Behind the Scenes Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Initiative