Ian Russon

Director, Health and Safety, Tata Steel UK and

worldsteel Safety and Health Steering Group member

10 October 2022

It’s a routine so familiar to every one of us, we barely give it a second thought. We often don’t even think about it while we’re doing it – an occurrence so embedded in our daily rituals, it almost blends into the background of everyday life. Yet we instinctively know it’s important enough to keep doing it morning after morning, night after night, day after day.

I’m talking about the humble act of brushing our teeth. The importance of dental hygiene is drummed into us from childhood – pupils are even given toothbrushes and toothpaste during their first years in primary school. Every day, we set a few minutes aside and make the effort to keep our teeth and gums healthy. It’s a given. Similarly, if we feel unwell or injure ourselves, we go to the doctor’s or a hospital to seek help.

We all know exactly how, and what we should do, to look after ourselves physically. But can we say the same about our minds, which is, ultimately, the most important organ in our bodies? For me, there is no reason not to take our mental health just as seriously as our physical health.

With today being World Mental Health Day, there will be lots of positive conversations and activities taking place at workplaces across the globe. At Tata Steel, our trained mental health first aiders, based all around the UK, are getting together to raise awareness, support each other, share good practice and, most importantly, get out and about to meet people in their own works areas, together helping to break the stigma that sadly still exists around mental health. The people in these vital roles are often the first point of contact in helping colleagues find the support they need, while they also play a crucial role in helping line supervisors and managers support the needs of their teams. Our ambition is for them to be as accessible as first aiders and fire wardens, to anyone in any corner of the business.

But our commitment goes way beyond just one day. We recognise that, as a business, our strength is very much in our people, so we are absolutely determined to develop a culture where we are mindful of the challenges around mental health and support colleagues who may be struggling. While there is still plenty of progress to be made and much more yet to implement, we have come an incredibly long way in just a few short years.

Earlier this year, for example, we launched our mental health policy that aims to create a healthier workplace through managing and supporting good mental health at work. It’s so important to do all we can to eradicate any stigma associated with mental health and help our employees find ways of improving their own wellbeing, as well as that of their friends and colleagues around them, and this has been a major stepping stone towards that.

Our Wellbeing Action Plan promotes employee engagement and is designed to help support people’s mental health at work. As well as removing the stigma, it’s about creating a healthy environment and empowering our employees when it comes to their own mental health. This way, we can help people before things get too much.

Tata Steel Mental Health

Similarly, our ‘Mental Health: My Role as a Line Manager’ training provides essential tools to positively manage mental health at work.

And then we’ve got things like our menopause policy and support group, weekly lunchtime mindfulness sessions, neurodiversity awareness, stress risk assessments – we even held our very first mental health open day in May, alongside a host of leading charities.

Conversation is crucial to breaking the stigma, and another big success story has been our Mindfulness, Mental Health and Wellbeing Yammer community – a place for colleagues to talk, ask questions, and share positive videos, tips and podcasts. The fact it’s had more than 10,000 visitors in the past 12 months tells us how valued it is by the Tata Steel family.

All of this is reinforced with consistent branding, so things like email signatures, badges, helmet stickers, table toppers and, of course, our #BreakTheStigma hashtag.

The thing that fills me with the most pride is the fact all this amazing work has come directly from our people. It’s not been top down, but is a direct result of our employees’ passion and commitment towards mental health, as well as a genuine concern for each other. Their collective drive to change the conversation, and support our journey going forward, is truly inspiring.

Today, I am opening our World Mental Health Day activities across the UK, and it is with a huge sense of pride I reflect on the fact that just a few years earlier, this would not have been happening. That, in itself, shows me how far we’ve come – not just as an organisation, but society in a wider sense.

While we’ve made giant strides in how we support our people with their mental health and wellbeing, there is still so much more to go at. Our next big challenge is to bring together all the fantastic work that’s happening across our sites into one, joined up UK approach, and continue to share, learn and adopt best practice – whether that comes internally within Tata Steel or from external sources.

Everyone deserves to go home safe and well at the end of their working day, which is why we will continue to be relentless in our goal of making mental health as important as physical health.

My brain and my heart, my kidneys and my lungs, are all incredibly important. I can’t think of a single reason why I wouldn’t seek help to keep them as healthy as my teeth. So let’s keep talking (and brushing), and together we can all play our part to help break the stigma.