Construction Safety Week 2021: Be Present, Be Focused and Be Safe

What does working safe look like?  What does working safe feel like?  As we wrap up Construction Safety Week, we look back on what we learned and how we plan on continuing the messages of the week throughout the year.  This year we celebrated the Holistic side of safety.  Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “Baseball is 90% mental and 10% physical,” translates well to working safely.

We are all familiar with the physical side of safety.  Barriers, PPE, trench boxes, and more are some examples of safety’s physical side.  The physical side of safety is always there, even when you are not.  A trench box will do its intended job no matter what is said to it, thrown at it, etc.  Aside from a defect in craftsmanship or improper use, the physical side of safety is reliable.  The equipment if it’s raining out, if you just got into an accident on the way to work, or if the job market is forcing layoffs.  It will be there, ready to do its job. 

What comprises the other 90% of safety, what does it look like, and why is it more meaningful?  When you get up to get ready for work, your mind is on the day that has not happened yet.  The list of what you need to do when you get home from work, the stack of bills, and the coming weekend’s chores.  When you put on your hard hat and get to work, where is your mind?  The activity you are about to do is something that you’ve been doing for years now.  You hear your foreman discussing the day’s activities and reviewing the safety precautions that are expected to be followed but are you paying attention?  Is your mind present and engaged at the moment?

Think it is easy to stay on task and focused?  Let us start talking about the real issues people are facing that provide additional distractions from work.  The construction industry has long held a top-three spot for heavy alcohol and substance use in specific industries.  Why drink and abuse substances?  Use as adults is different from the reasons it all started.  Frequently, alcohol and substance use help someone escape something and make people forget about things for a short time.  Construction work is demanding, nagging injuries from years of laborious work are prevalent.  Some turn to prescription pain killers to provide relief.  With the use of drugs and alcohol comes an altered state of mind that lingers for different durations after use.  Depending on the drug of choice, the mind could be affected by it for days. 

Depression, anger management issues, and domestic problems contribute to a distracted mindset.  Mental health awareness has become a long overdue, mainstream topic this past year as the pandemic has created a population with increased mental disorders.  Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and phobias have seen an increase this past year, understandably so given what we all have gone through and continue to endure. 

Construction Safety Week was underscored by an overarching message, “Be Present, Be Focused, and Be Safe.”  The daily toolbox talks were about being present and focused, a healthy mind and healthy body, being relentless, safe, and well-rested.  Safety Week allows for everyone to hit a reset button on safety.  This year’s spotlight on the Total Wellbeing and Overall Safety of workers was a nice change from the traditional safety topics.  These topics tend to be difficult conversations to have by themselves.  However, when this subject matter becomes a universal and simultaneous conversation among construction workers across the country, the conversation is a little easier to start to have.

Taking care of yourself also is a contributing factor in being a good team member.  Physical health and mental health should be the same.  By having an awareness of mental health issues, opening the door, and removing the stigma for people to get help, we will create a healthier, more productive, and (most importantly) safer workforce.

A back to basics talk on PPE, site safety, and what to do when this event occurs is easier to have.  Those talks are essential to have, but a change is needed in safety.  Everyone is aware that mental distractions are a common root cause for incidents.  The industry’s problem is adjusting attitudes around those mental distractions, breaking the mold, and talking about the real issues at hand.  There is no shame in seeking help; no one has had an easy time during this pandemic.  But we are obligated to one other to take care of ourselves – and when we do, everyone will win.

For when workers are physically and mentally safe, everyone wins!

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