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Construction Safety Week 2022: ‘Connected. Supported. Safe.’

Shining a light on the importance of mental health during Construction Safety Week

Construction Safety Week is an annual week-long event that aims to strengthen our industry’s safety culture and reinforce the importance of being committed to safety every day. Over the years, the industry has acknowledged that physical safety and mental wellness go hand-in-hand. With this year’s Construction Safety Week focused on staying connected and supported, we decided to take the opportunity to interview Michael Bartolome, one of MATT’s dedicated Safety Managers, to understand how he cultivates a healthy and safe work environment for his team.

Q: What are the three most important components of promoting a culture of safety on your job sites?

A: 1. Build relationships with a foundation of trust and express gratitude. If your people don’t trust you, they will be less likely to listen to you and respect you. When I do my rounds, I communicate with everyone and treat everyone with the same level of respect that I’d want, which contributes significantly to a safe work environment. I also try to show gratitude to the people on my site and thank them when taking the initiative.

2. Set clear and consistent expectations. A good orientation goes a long way, especially when working with a new team. Setting clear guidelines and ensuring your team understands all of the policies and procedures is critical to setting up a job for success.

3. Establish practical safety procedures and develop a game plan that allows flexibility and creativity in your policies.

Q: In your opinion, what role does mental health play in job site safety?

A: I believe “a healthy mind is an alert mind,” which is something that becomes extremely important on the job site. Mental health plays a huge role in worker productivity and significant evidence supports the connection between an individual’s mental well-being and their ability to function at work. In addition, mental health affects employees’ ability to have good judgment and recognize potential hazards while working, which is why strong mental health is critical in the construction industry. To operate safely, individuals must always be alert and mindful, and if your mental health is suffering, that can be extremely hard to do.

Q: How do you approach conversations surrounding stress and mental health with individuals working on the job site?

A: Sometimes, it can be challenging to discuss mental health while respecting an individual’s comfort levels. For me, it goes back to establishing a relationship built on trust so that people feel comfortable opening up to me if/when it’s comfortable for them. I focus on being positive, a good listener and open-minded. It’s important to be prepared if someone is going through something you aren’t ready to hear, but I find that leading with empathy, support and encouragement makes for meaningful interactions.

Q: What does “staying safe” mean to you?

A: The bottom line is that “staying safe” requires you to value your employees and demonstrate safety through your actions more than your words. I have the same level of concern for my colleagues on the job site that I do for my family. Communication and respect go a long way. With over 20 years of experience, I’m still learning from those around me, whether they be an apprentice or experienced professionals. Taking a real interest in an individual’s life allows me to constantly be learning, growing and practicing safety every day.

Q: How do you continue to evolve safety practices and conversations surrounding mental health on your job sites?

A: When it comes to safety in construction, the conversation is often centered around eliminating the most common on-the-job accidents, such as falls, being struck or caught between objects, electrocution, etc. These topics are extremely important, but I don’t think we as an industry have given much thought or discussion to mental health, which is equally as important. As I’ve personally recognized the significance of mental health in job site safety, I have started to implement more discussion surrounding mental health in my job site orientations. This is something I plan to develop and continue to implement on future projects.

To learn more about Construction Safety Week and to access resources for mental health, addiction recovery and suicide prevention, click here.

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