Chief safety officer Shaun Carvalho contributed his insights to Construction Tech Review on how focusing on safety of the entire person, layered on top of technology, will help the construction industry break its injury and fatality rate plateau. 

It’s encouraging to see the progress the construction industry has made in safety. But implementing innovations—from real-time digital safety observations to subcontractor engagement technology—is now table stakes. There’s a reason there’s been a plateau in injury and fatality rates in the industry, even after a spike in leading-edge technology, and it’s the lack of focus on human behaviors.

Every action comes down to a decision, and to influence positive actions that will create a safe jobsite, leaders need to understand the psychology of human behaviors. With 95% of failures traced back to the human factor and the average person making hundreds of thousands of mistakes in their lifetime, it is essential to create a culture of empathy to understand where people are coming from and get to the root of unsafe decisions.

Mental health work is critical to this approach. As humans, we need to feel safe and secure in order to perform our best; organizations need to create workplace environments that foster belonging and inclusion, creating safe spaces where people feel they can share their struggles without blame, stigma, or judgment. This openness provides a line of sight and perspective that can inform why someone has made unsafe decisions, opening up a communication channel for continued improvement and support.

At Shawmut, our goal is to create an environment that meets everyone's needs and helps them make safe decisions. While still a work in progress, we’ve taken actionable steps to operationalize mental health and ultimately create a culture of belonging that drives us closer to our goal of zero safety incidents. These include:

Total Worker Health

In 2016, we increased focus on Total Worker Health, introducing our company and partner network to the concept of focusing on safety of the entire person—not just physical safety and not just on the jobsite. This, on top of our culture, laid the groundwork for our enhanced focus and work on mental health and well-being.

Substance Use Disorder Training

To proactively respond to construction’s opioid crisis in 2018, we mobilized a cross-functional Opioid Task Force to provide resources for Shawmut’s entire network, partnering with the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center to have access to the most up-to-date information. Shawmut partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield to pilot an opioid toolkit program—to-date, all of Shawmut’s field and office services staff have undergone substance use disorder training, including the administration of Narcan, which is supplied to all Shawmut jobsites.

Culture of Care Toolbox Talks

Jointly launched by Shawmut’s safety team and Diversity Leadership Council, these enhanced toolbox talks aim to make jobsites more inclusive. The Culture of Care Toolbox Talks focus on safety from a psychological, mental health, and inclusive behavior standpoint, with topics including mental health awareness (PTSD, suicide prevention), racism, and sexism.

To continue our collective learning, we rolled out suicide trainings and other programs in conjunction with this year’s Safety Week. We also launched our Mental Health & Wellness Leadership Group, which now consists of more than 50 people, across functions, dedicated to identifying programs, initiatives, and paths to address the mental health crisis in the industry.

All of this is layered on top of our mental health benefits, which include a confidential, free employee assistance program that offers short-term counseling and referrals—available 24/7.

It's critical that no firm is on the sidelines when it comes to addressing mental health. Meeting people where they are and taking the time to understand their perspective is what will lead to safer jobsites and break construction’s injury and fatality rate plateau.

Read the byline on Construction Tech Review here.