Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Mental Health Series.
The idea of a PPE equivalent for mental health and safety was inspired between 2017 and 2019 whilst delivering
mental health training within the construction and manufacturing sectors. PPE is about prevention, prevention of
illness or injury and preventing litigation. Its purpose is to reduce risk and keep people safe and, in line with
the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, provision of PPE is a legal requirement. It’s primarily about minimising
risk of physical harm with a focus on being proactive; no point in putting that hard hat on once
you’ve been hit
on the head and are unconscious, or providing gloves after someone has dermatitis or a burn or that high viz
jacket once you’re lying on the ground and have been knocked over! To make the idea of control measures, as
defined within any risk assessment for health and safety, more relatable, and to normalise attitudes to mental ill
health, Mindshift offers a variety of organisational support that is based on areas found within the list below.
What might the equivalents of PPE for mental health and safety look like?
- The high-viz jacket is saying SEE ME. The response is WE SEE YOU and YOU ARE SAFE. To be mentally safe
requires a stigma-free culture that enables staff to be comfortable if they need to say, “see me” about their
mental fitness and a workplace culture that acknowledges, understands and supports mental difference.
- Matching the right type of hand protection to the job being done is acknowledging that exposure to some
products or heat sources can cause harm to the skin. The mental health alternative is acknowledging and
assessing the potential for work-related stress by performing organisation-wide or individual stress risk
assessments and implementing control measures to reduce it.
- The availability of hand wash or emergency rinsing agents is ensuring that if an accident occurs despite
control measures such as gloves or eye protection being used that swift action to prevent long-lasting damage
can be taken. The mental health alternative involves providing support if work-related stress or mental distress
occurs. This could be via access to an employee assistance programme, funded talking therapy or availability of
colleagues who have knowledge and confidence to talk about mental distress.
- Occupational exposure limits and working time directives are about too much of something for too long being a
risk to health and allowing workers to stop before harm is done. A working environment that supports the need to
relax, reflect, and recharge is the MH alternative.
- Wearing a hard-hat, is acknowledging that we are not invincible, that we may be vulnerable if hit on the head.
Provision of the hard hat is saying “things can go wrong, so, just in case, look after yourself and wear this”.
The mental health alternative is an employee who implements self-help strategies and takes responsibility for
his mental resilience as far as possible.
- Toolbox talks typically educate staff about PPE use and how to work safely. Regarding mental fitness this
could include following national campaigns, holding regular health promotions on mental health and displaying
relevant resources in the workplace or on the intranet.
- Access to Physical First Aiders in the workplace is a legal requirement as per the Health and Safety
(First-Aid) Regulations 1981. The Act requires employers to “provide adequate and appropriate equipment,
facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill
at work”. In essence, trained staff aim to keep people safe and try to stop a problem getting worse until the
professionals arrive, they don’t walk by and ignore the symptoms. Staff trained in mental health follow the same
idea however their role is not to wait until a crisis occurs before stepping in. Many people have had no
training in stress or mental health awareness, and many don’t know what to say or worry they could make a
situation worse. Training related to stress and mental health increases knowledge, understanding and confidence
and reduces stigma around this topic. Further this enables confidence to have a good quality conversation, to
reduce the isolation and distress felt and, if necessary, to signpost to the professionals.
Parity of esteem
Parity of esteem is the principle by which mental health is given equal priority to physical health and was
enshrined in law by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The current lack of parity is evidenced in various
research that demonstrates a life expectancy that is 15 – 25 years lower in those living with severe mental
illness. My aim is to make the concept of minimising work-related risk of stress and mental distress easy to
understand and to make it more relatable, especially within those sectors where physical health and safety and the
usefulness of control measures and risk assessment is second nature.
The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety and within its
guidance documents aims to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health. This includes mental as well as
physical health. Stress and mental health are one of the 3 health priorities that the HSE has been focussing on
since 2016 as per their Health and Work Strategy. Many businesses continue to be reactive rather than proactive in
their approach to managing work-related stress. With many employees feeling unable to be honest with their
employer about their mental health, this can lead to people becoming more unwell, being absent from work or
attending work when not fit (presenteeism).
The PPE for Mental Health Series provided by Mindshift Consultancy offers a range of training and organisational
support. Two brand new IOSH approved courses are now available for in-house delivery (virtual initially), entitled
“Understanding and Supporting Stress & Mental Fitness in the Workplace” and “Performing an Individual Stress Risk
Assessment: Why, When and How” under the licence of Mindshift Consultancy.
MSc Workplace Health
Owner, Mindshift Consultancy