The Human Element
By: Todd Cook
Safety and health professionals are typically focused on the hierarchy of controls (Elimination > engineering > substitution > administrative > PPE) to prevent injury and illness. Hazardous energy, heights, confined spaces, and heavy equipment are often at the top of our list and consume much of our focus. Root cause investigations often lead us to human error where blame is mistakenly assigned to the injured worker. Yes, in some cases, the worker is at fault. However, the true cause of an incident or other undesired event is often far below the surface. We need to dig a little deeper and challenge ourselves in understanding the human element.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has (and is) changing the way we do business. Increased health protocols on the work environment along with concerns of unemployment and work shortages adds to already high levels of stress. Back to school juggling and economic conditions have (and will continue) to take its toll on our workforce. Momentary lapses in situational awareness or attention to the steps of a task can have disastrous consequences. Now, more than ever, mental health awareness and proactive interventions must be part of our toolbox.
Construction is near and dear to my heart. I grew up in this industry and have many family members and friends who work on our roads, bridges, plants, and buildings. Chances are that you know someone personally who works in the trades. There is a high probability that most of you reading this know someone with mental illness or have been touched by suicide at some point. The construction industry has one of the highest levels of suicide in the United States. The sooner we accept the fact that the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce is just as (if not more) important as arc flash and fall protection training, the better off we will be. When we take this a step or two further and actively watch for and address subtle signs of struggle, lives can be saved. The stigma of having these thoughts of self-harm held by the stereotypical stoic construction worker can be difficult to overcome. We often feel embarrassed to ask for help. We have an obligation as safety and health leaders at our companies and in our communities to address this head on. The time for silence has passed and these conversations are long overdue.
September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. The week of September 6th through September 12th has been designated as Suicide Prevention Week. This is an annual weeklong campaign in the United States to inform and engage the workforce and the general public on suicide prevention and the associated warning signs. I am proud to be a small part of the AGC of Missouri’s Suicide Prevention work group. This group stepped up to the plate to develop and communicate a construction-focused educational and awareness campaign with the help of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. A link to these valuable resources and tools can be found here. I encourage you to utilize these valuable toolbox talks and social media resources to help make a difference at your workplace.
The human element in the workplace is complex. People make mistakes. How often are these errors a result of the stress of everyday life or mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety? The potential for serious injury or death as a result of a critical error caused by mental health stressors – failure to deenergize and lockout a circuit or choosing the 20 Cal suit instead of the appropriate 40 Cal gear for a given scenario. Mental health must be wired into our safety and health management systems.
Many of us are fortunate to work for an organization that genuinely cares about the health and wellbeing of its workforce and shows its support through campaigns such as this. I strongly encourage each of you in the coming days, weeks, and years to continue this critical effort every day. We owe it to the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends on our jobsites.
Enespro PPE blog web page: https://enesproppe.com/blogs/electrical-safety-stories/a-flash-in-time
AGC MO suicide prevention web pages: https://www.agcmo.org/WCM/Safety/Suicide_Prevention_in_Construction_Industry/WCM/Nav_Items/Member_Resources/Safety/Suicide_Prevention_in_Construction_Industry.aspx?hkey=3b314f31-d3d3-491c-8cd0-f417dbf57a70
Guarantee Electrical: https://geco.com/
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