Why Mental Health Is the Fifth Safety Focus

HR & Safety

Early on, Kyle Zimmer from IUOE Local 478 and I began to refer to the “Focus Five,” putting a spin on OSHA’s Focus Four outreach and highlighting the four primary killers in construction—Falls, Caught In Between, Struck By, and Electrocution. We think there should be another seat at the table—Mental Health, Focus Five.

Most of us know that a successful safety program focuses attention where it’s most needed. Lagging indicators tell us about the Focus Four, they are evident in statistics annually.

But many of us know as well that measuring the past doesn’t entirely help us address the future. Statistics are important, and help us build a framework, but true success in safety comes from leading indicators—planning, preventive measures, employee engagement.

With Focus Four, we can get stuck in the “what are you doing” component of the plan. We boil it down to compliance-related factors (“are you tied off, you’re over 6’”).

With Focus Five, we also address the “how are you doing” component of worker safety. I think it’s safe to say that a distracted worker is more likely to miss the important cues that may occur on a job … and mental stressors are distracting.

Change in Approach

Asking “why aren’t you tied off” is likely more effective than a statement such as “you have to tie off.” If you ask why, you will learn more about the obstacles an employee faces, and you can adapt safety measures to meet the situation.

Quite simply, a change in approach (use a scissor lift instead of a scaffold, for instance) can frequently make the work safer. But if an employee answers “I’m sorry, I forgot …,” there is an opportunity for a conversation.

We don’t have to be psychiatrists or psychologists, or even trained counselors. But we really should listen—and be prepared with resources that can help, if necessary.

We really should listen—and be prepared with resources that can help, if necessary.

I think we’ve all had experiences where, after talking to an employee about an unsafe act, you get the feeling in your gut that he or she really wants to do the right thing, but really was simply distracted.

Many times, that conversation can have a profound effect on an employee’s future behavior. Keep it positive.

A successful safety program establishes expectations, trains and supports to those expectations, and gives employees the tools they need to be successful.

Focus Five

By addressing the Focus Five: 

  • Can you fall? 
  • Can you get caught in between? 
  • Can you get struck by? 
  • Can you get electrocuted? 
  • Are you fully prepared for work today? 

We can all be more successful.

Smells, Sounds, Sights

Here is a little exercise and guidance on a way you can breathe and center, if even for just a moment: What makes you smile?

For me, it’s the smell of:

  • Fresh cut grass
  • First paving job of the season
  • Garlic
  • Bacon
  • Coffee
  • The ocean
  • Johnson’s Baby Shampoo—babies!

The sound of:

  • Baseball off the bat—when you just KNOW it’s going to go
  • The snap of a baseball into the glove
  • AC Cobra 427
  • The first boat engine start of the season
  • Waves
  • My kids—the simple word “dad”

 The sight of:

  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Rainbows
  • Sea Glass

Hokey? Maybe. But there IS science behind it.

‘What Is Your Joy?’

I have written many number of times about mental health. It’s a real issue. We are all very stressed. Sometimes it takes just a minute to stop, regroup, conjure up a positive image…

Heard about this the other day.

Posted this a couple of weeks ago:

What is your joy?

Here are two good places to start your research if you need help:

About the author: Marko Kaar is the director of safety operations at the Bloomfield-based general contracting and construction management firm Bartlett Brainard Eacott, Inc.


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