What Safety and Risk Could Learn from Patch Adams

What Safety and Risk Could Learn from Patch Adams

Last night I watched the movie Patch Adams starring the late, and amazingly talented, Robin Williams. The story for those who don’t know it is broadly based around the work and life of the real life medical doctor called Patch Adams. The real Patch is the founder of the Gesundheit Institute, an alternative style healthcare facility that describes itself as:

The Gesundheit Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit healthcare organization whose mission is to reframe and reclaim the concept of ‘hospital’. We are a model of holistic medical care based on the belief that the health of the individual cannot be separated from the health of the family, the community, the society and the world.

(Source – http://www.patchadams.org/gesundheit/)

While I don’t pretend to know a lot about Gesundheit beyond what I have read today on their website, if they go anywhere near practicing their mission, I suspect that they are making impacts on lives in a much more meaningful way than our traditional reductionist approach to healthcare.

If we subscribe to the theory that wellness, healthcare and medical systems should have as their focus physical and biological health, and subsequently pay little attention to psychological and spiritual health, we are lead to a path that sees patients (I’d prefer to call them people or more preferably by their name) as objects and parts of a system


Learning About Learning in Risk and Safety

A Google search of ‘risk and safety training in Australia’ reveals more than 103,000,000 results. The focus of such training seems to be programming people to absorb information on legislation, safety processes and engineering based subjects. This seems to be the common method we use in risk and safety, and one might be easily seduced into thinking that attending such training may result in greater wisdom and a workforce more capable of discerning risk. Some might even consider this training as ‘learning’ about risk and safety. But what do we really know about ‘learning’ in risk and safety?

I for one have done my fair share of ‘indoctrination’ sessions in the name of safety. Site inductions, toolbox talks, safety shares; you name it, we sure know how to tell people about the stuff that we think is important when it comes to safety. But, do we in risk and safety, really understand ‘learning’?

If we are to better understand what it means to ‘learn’ in risk and safety, I wonder whether we should shift our attention away from focusing on how we gather and process ‘information’ (about legislation, safety process and engineering) and instead progress toward a recognition that learning is a social (‘communal’) activity. Do we also need to recognise that much of what we learn occurs in our unconscious through activities like reflection‘experiencing’, and through our involvement in community? Do we need to do more learning about learning in risk and safety?


The Challenges for Organisations in Dealing with Mental Health

How does adopting a ‘reductionist’ approach impact on mental health at work?

If organisations are to better support the mental health of their employees, adopting a more holistic approach, to firstly better understand, and then deal with mental health at work, is required.

A holistic approach to dealing with mental health includes understanding biological factors relating to mental health as well as considering psychological factors. However, in addition to the current approach, a holistic approach also recognises the importance of social psychological factors such as social inclusion and spiritual factors such as beliefs of individual workers. It is focused on understanding and exploring, over fixing and solving.

It recognises the ‘wickidity’ of mental health and that organisations that focus on ‘tackling’, ‘accepting’ and ‘dealing with’ mental health are more likely to be better positioned to supported improved mental health.

Organisations who wish to better deal with the mental health of their workers, firstly need to understand and recognise the how they may be adopting ‘reductionist’ approaches and consider whether these are limiting their ability to dealing with mental health. They would further be advised to consider how adopting a more ‘holistic’ approach, including consideration of the mind body and spirit would enhance the mental health and well-being of their workers.