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Stress, Emails and modern communication

Being a modern day HSE Director / Manager has changed from years past. I remember the days when I received a note on my desk requesting me for a meeting, an instruction being given or a telephone call on a land-line. The note pad and pen at my side, notes taken, dated and caller name written down. Then off to the secretary or typing pool to see if any documents were placed in my “pigeon hole”. I then had the time to daily go on site, speak to many people, understanding the needs.

In 1989 I got my first desk top computer. I was with the South African Railway Services at that time, and I bought this for my own use. After taking it home, un-boxing it, putting it together and switching it on I had “C\:” prompt.

What do I do now? So, I called my mate who was a Mechanical Engineering lecturer at the then MangosuthoTechnikon, and explained to him what was on my computer. Quickly he replied, “I don’t think you have any programmes on your computer”, as he lived a couple of doors away from me, within an hour I was up and running with a basic word-processor programme. I was very, very chuffed. I was now introduced to the world of computers, and very soon I was on the world-wide-web. Looking back, I should not have been so happy.

In my current capacity, and depending upon what company or project I consult with, I have received over 280 emails in one day. Although I normally average approximately 100, I have often thought that the first line of any HSE Director / Manager job description should be:

“Reply to 20 emails a day, and send only 5 of your own a day”

The second line should read:

“go home you have completed your 8-hour shift”

This would in my case would easily equate to an 8-hour day, as most emails have large documents attached to them, queries, questions that may need to be researched before answering, referencing and the dreaded, “lets copy everyone in”, including the boss, just so that we can cover our arse, gain some points, and get the office politics going. Then just to make sure, 19 of the 20 people copied in, must also score their “brownie points”. The 20th person being yourself.

This would really appeal to me, not that I am lazy, but it is realistic. The days of the directing HSE in the field has diminished greatly from the HSE Director / Manager. The days when HSE was at floor level with one’s Safety Practitioners and Superintendents has vanished into email blustering. In the Telegraph, an article written by Lucy Clark-Billings (2/02/2016) the following is stated:

“The secret to happiness is to ignore an endless stream of emails by turning off your app, according to psychologists who warn constant updates are a “toxic source of stress”.

Due to technology enabling people to be at their email’s constant beck and call, a culture has developed where people must feel they are constantly available for work, according to research.

As a result, an “unwritten organisational etiquette” has become ingrained in the workplace and employees have developed habits which negatively impact on their emotional well-being”.

Having received emails from co-workers in the middle of the night, that “ping on you cell phone”, because it is not switched off in the case of an emergency, only to find that another document has been sent to you to read for the 08H00 meeting the next day.

I ask the question, “how do I do my other 30 – 50 items on my job description”? Hit my targets, produce my reports, go to all the meetings, sometimes four a day, have my “ear to the ground”, do those high-level accident investigations, provide leadership, provide advice, participate in HAZOP’s, PHA’s, Safety Cases, do Risk Assessments, do this and this and that?

Do yourself a favour and go to HR, who will immediately question if they got the correct person for the job………should they inform the boss that you are not coping? Let’s add a bit more stress to the job. Not only will we inform the boss, lets review the KPI’s, maybe we have left a bit out, more regular performance reviews may be needed?

Now this may sound as if it it’s a gripe or slight on management, but truly it is aimed at how we as professionals get side-tracked into having to put out fires and generate copious amount of paper instead of focusing on what our real job is.


Shane Lishman
Shane Lishman is a member of the Technical Committee with the International Association of Commissioning Engineers and holds the title of MIACE; he is also a Chartered in the United Kingdom with the International Organisation of Safety And Health, CMIOSH. He holds a Post Graduate Qualification from Nottingham University. Areas in which he has work or consulted include: Oil and Gas; Construction; HSE Commissioning; Forestry; rail; hospitality industry; Chemical industry including printing; to name a few. Shane has worked in the Middle East, countries in Africa and South Africa, specialising in mega contracts. His last 4 contracts have ranged from US$400m to US$1.7bn, and a future contract of US$9.8bn. Shane has not forgotten his roots and still practices when he can in South Africa and contributes to the profession as a whole.

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