Safety - Employee wellbeing is the hidden key to reducing accidents

It hasn’t been easy to find facts and figures to show the link between improved wellbeing and a reduction in workplace accidents. But that has only reassured me that I should write a blog on the subject. 

I spent the first 15 years of my career as a Civil Engineer working in the construction industry, including working in the typical construction site environment and more recently training and coaching. 

Although this blog is written in the context of the construction industry (since that is where my personal experience lies), I have no doubt that the same principles apply in any sector in which safety is a concern.

One of my main drivers to deciding to pursue a different career path was because I noticed that there was a lot wrong with the construction industry. It seemed obvious to me, but most of the people I worked with seemed resigned to the fact that it’s just ‘the way things are’.  The people who I have come across who seem to share the same values as me in terms of striving to make the world of construction a better place, are genuinely so overworked, stressed and tired that they feel it is impossible to carve out the time to actually DO something about it.  The main problem being, that the first thing they would have to do is to convince the right person in their organisation that there is a serious business case for improving wellbeing. This task in itself could be equivalent to a full time job for a good few weeks. But there is no budget for this preparation work. There is no allowance made for it. It isn’t even on the radar of most construction companies.

In my capacity as an Engineer, as an instructor and as a coach I have come across a whole raft of examples to illustrate that there is indeed a serious problem with wellbeing in the construction industry. To me, it seems clear that there must be a strong link with the number of accidents.

On one practical training course I was running one of the delegates, a joiner, confided in me that he was secretly ‘popping pills’ at work on a regular basis whenever he could feel a panic attack coming on.  The responsibilities and workload were getting piled on top of him and the environment was so aggressive that he was unable to tell anyone about the anxiety and stress he was suffering.  When I asked him why he didn’t tell his employer he told me that he would be either laughed at or sacked.

Another joiner, who came to me for NLP coaching had been suffering pains in his arms, chest and stomach for months. It turned out that there were no physical problems, but the high levels of stress and anxiety he was experiencing were so severe that they were manifesting in physical pain.

One construction site manager that I talked to was not coping at all with the stress of a recent fatality on his site. The incident had affected him so severely that his family life had become affected too and depression combined with stress had taken hold.  He blacked out when he was driving on the motorway one day and was lucky to come round in time to bring the car to a safe stop.  It was only when he went to see his GP that he discovered the blackout had been caused by acute stress. And all the while that this was going on, he was functioning in his safety critical role as site manager and his employer was totally oblivious to what he was going through.

On one of the sites I worked on as an engineer, it wasn’t unheard of that site operatives, engineers and even managers would go out drinking until the early hours of the morning, get some sleep for an hour or two in the welfare huts and then start work at 7am.

Stress, anxiety and depression are often associated with lack of sleep and lack of concentration. I believe that if emphasis is given to the wellbeing of employees they will be less distracted, clearer thinking and less likely to be dependent on alcohol and drugs. All of these are factors in accidents.

It seems to be a no brainer that caring for employees in this way would lead to more open discussions, make it easier for them to report safety concerns and to speak up if something is affecting their ability to do their job safely.  In a more open and compassionate environment, people are more likely to come forward if they feel something is unsafe, more likely to feel more confident to stand up to pressure, have greater self- confidence and self- worth and say ‘no’ to things which they don’t feel are safe. They are more likely to reach out to a colleague who is showing signs of stress or depression and in fact be more empathetic and able to notice the signs.

So, unsupported theory as it might seem, I believe that there are both direct and indirect links between wellbeing and the number of accidents and that implementing a coordinated Employee Wellbeing Strategy could have a profound effect on reducing accidents. 

Don’t have an Employee Wellbeing Strategy? Get in touch with me to find out how I can help you.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has any statistics on this topic or indeed anyone who would be interested in working together to create a case study. Please share your views, experience and questions in the comments box or email me at saffron@changegives.com.

If you are an organisation and you’d like to benefit your business by giving the gift of wellbeing to your employees, you can find out more about how we can help you here or contact ChangeGives.  We also offer personal, employee and Executive coaching.