In 2011, NB Power introduced the “We don’t need a better hard hat” campaign to address the psychological safety of all employees, with the overarching principle of mindfulness.
“Its basic premise is the non-judgmental awareness of yourself and your surroundings,” says Duff Boyd, director of health and safety at the utility, which delivers power to 400,000 homes and businesses in New Brunswick and has 2,500 employees. “Do everything from a mindfulness perspective, and everything else will fall into place.”
The 40-10-50 model was a starting point for the psychological safety program, referring to the fact that 40 per cent of the time our consciousness focuses on past events, 50 per cent of the time it flits to the future, leaving only 10 per cent to focus on the present moment; the task at hand, says industrial psychologist Shelley Parker.
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“If a line guy showed up for work one morning, 7:30 in the morning, all of a sudden before he climbs into the bucket, this thought kicks in of, ‘Wish I hadn’t said what I said when I left this morning,’” she says. “It’s these particular thoughts they begin to dwell on and focus on and this causes a little bit of stress or anxiety.”
To help focus the mind, the health and safety team implemented a daily breathing exercise for workers just before morning briefings. The workers are able to de-stress and then they’re “good to go,” says Parker.
The recent history of Fredericton-based NB Power provided a number of distracting events for its workers: a proposed sale to Hydro Quebec, a breakup then re-integration of the utility from one company to five separate units, as well as other events out of the workers’ control.
“When we recognized it was the organizational change that was driving the incidents… we started a huge blitz on educating people as to the dangers of distractions,” says Boyd.
Any employee not feeling up to the job or distracted by things outside the work environment is excused from that task or approached by his supervisor to see if help is required.
All managers at NB Power go through a Psychological Side of Safety and Mindfulness module during the management development program. They also complete a mental fitness program that takes them through common types of mental issues in the workplace, how to help work with employees to prevent mental issues, how to help those who have mental issues and the use of tools such as mindfulness to help increase levels of attention, reduce anxiety and avoid distractions.
NB Power’s focus on psychological safety has not just improved the mental health of employees, but their physical safety, too. The initial implementation of the psychological module has produced the best two years in NB Power’s history as measured by the total number of recordable injuries, says Boyd.
The utility is also in the lowest workers’ compensation rate category and pays about 30 cents per hundred employees.
“We pay less than flower shops and banks,” says Boyd. “That’s real money off the bottom line.”