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December 8, 2015

The Role of Mental Health in Your Safety Program

Let’s talk safety. Coming from the construction and oil industries, employee safety was a non-negotiable thing—we had to be safe, look safe, feel safe, and practice safety for every part of our job. We had safety toolbox talks, watched safe driving videos, and took quizzes about safe handling of materials. We wore hard hats, steel-toed boots, safety vests, safety glasses and were protected to the fullest extent by our personal protective equipment while on the job site. If it was in regard to safety, we did it.

As much as I felt safe, and was properly educated on how to work safe, I found it interesting that my fellow co-workers continued to have accidents. I’m the first to say that accidents do happen, but what other aspects of safety were we missing out on that could have contributed to those “accidents”?

Google defines the term accident as “An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.” However, after witnessing and hearing about tens, if not hundreds, of accidents over my 12-year tenure in the construction industry, I continually found that many of those accidents could have been avoided. It wasn’t the training that was missing or the equipment. it was often due to shortcuts, distractions, or bad judgment by the employee.

I think it’s safe to say that many of us take shortcuts to get things done quicker, easier, and with less stress. However, we also take shortcuts because we’re lazy, lack the energy to do the task properly, and quite possibly just aren’t thinking clearly. Furthermore, I think it’s easy to say that we all have distractions in our life that are completely unrelated to our profession. However, because the majority of our waking time is spent at work–that’s where the majority of our distractions are dealt with. Whether it’s worrying about your son/daughter being bullied at school, or you’ve had an argument with a spouse and thinking about those repercussions, or you’re simply stressed about where you’re going to get money for the next house payment–it’s all a distraction. It takes away from focusing on your job, which leads to accidents, injuries, disabilities, and is costly for the employer.

Pay Attention to Workers’ Mental Health Insert the role of mental health in your safety program. (Mental health is a very broad term, so I’m going to narrow it down to specifically speak about the mental “state” of your employees in regard to stress, anxiety, and distractions versus topics associated with a true mental illness.)

Mental health should be a topic for your safety program. Discussions regarding how to minimize stress and anxiety should be at the forefront of this discussion. Employees have hundreds of reasons as to why they could be stressed at work; it’s important to minimize those reasons to at least encompass the ones that are professional in nature. Accidents happen because employees are not fully present at work. Their bodies may be present, but their minds are elsewhere.

Mental health as it relates to mental clarity also should be discussed. Food affects your mood. It affects your energy levels. And if you’re one of those individuals who eats processed “junk,” it can lead to a term called “brain fog,” which Google defines as “a feeling of being somewhat disconnected or spaced out, mentally confused and lacking clarity, focus and concentration. Other symptoms may include a decrease in short-term memory, reduced attention span and the onset of forgetfulness.”

Having employees who know what foods to eat to avoid energy crashes and brain fog is vitally important–specifically if you are trying to avoid accidents.

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