National Safety Month: Impairment

Beer background. Fresh beer on wooden table.

National Safety Month:

We've discussed spotting hazards, avoiding slips, trips, and falls, and the overarching effect of fatigue -- all of which are largely caused by the work environment and not by choice. For the last week of National Safety Month, we're taking a look at how some individual choices can create just as dangerous a hazard as a wet floor or too-long hours...and how to mitigate them.

Know what you're looking for.

Impairment isn't always as obvious as slurred words or stumbling; it can manifest in all kinds of ways to watch for. Warning signs of possible impairment, misuse, or addiction include personality shifts, trouble focusing, short-term memory loss, poor hand/eye coordination or fine motor skills, and incoherence, but may be as subtle as multiple, uncharacteristic missed deadlines or absences.

Drug testing, in compliance with federal or state laws, can screen for risky substance abuse issues, but often aren't administered to all employees or test for synthetic opioids. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an excellent resource for help with workplace drug testing.

Know what you're dealing with.

Opioid medications, even if prescribed by a doctor, run a high risk of addiction and misuse, and, according to a 2017 National Security Council poll, the construction industry reports higher-than-average opioid disorders. 

We already discussed how fatigue can have the same effect on your driving abilities as drinking. Alcohol causes impairment from the first drink, even if it doesn't seem obvious. Cannabis, increasingly decriminalized for recreational and medicinal use, has a wide range of effects depending on other variables. Although data on marijuana impairment is inconclusive, use can affect short-term memory, concentration, and delayed reaction time -- all of which can create job site hazards.

Even emotional impairment can create an unsafe effect on your ability to stay safe. If you're dealing with stress or anxiety, it can be difficult to focus at work, creating a risk for yourself and others.

Talk it out.

As it often is, the first step is education. We're not talking adult D.A.R.E programs; we mean creating a culture of open communication. Although 7 out of 10 surveyed HR officials reported opioid misuse in their organizations, only 19% felt "extremely prepared" to handle that misuse. Here are some ways you can avoid being part of the other 89%:

Establish a clear, written policy on prescription medication, help educate your employees about non-opioid options for pain management, and train employees to help spot signs of possible addiction or misuse to avoid or mitigate hazards. And if your organization offers an Employee Assistance Program, make sure your supervisors are comfortable advocating it.

pills baby!

Personality shifts, trouble with fine motor coordination, and incoherence can all be signs of possible addiction.

dr spacemen r & r

Before starting a new prescription, ask your doctor about any possible side effects and how it might impact your ability to work or drive. (Note: Dr. Spaceman is not a real doctor.)

af dont take drugs redux

Many employee handbooks are quite clear on the matter of mind-altering substances.

Make it a habit.

As uncomfortable as it might be, the best way to keep yourself and your teammates safe is to address the issue and discuss it with your supervisor, HR, or the safety team. Dennis Group's Safety Managers can help you learn how to spot impairments and have the tough conversations needed to ensure everyone can go home the way they came to work. 

We've enjoyed sharing our Safety Team's tips and advice with you over National Safety Month, and we hope these articles have helped you see that accidents are preventable if everyone does their part and watches each others' backs. Thank you, and stay safe!

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.

National Safety Month: Fatigue

symbolic clock showing different types of coffee for each time of the day

National Safety Month:

Occupational fatigue is all too familiar to plenty of employees who have worked multiple jobs, extended periods of overtime, or in exhausting work environments. Dennis Group's Safety Team is back to tell you that, sometimes, that fifth cup of coffee just ain't gonna cut it -- and some tips for making sure you don't get to that point.

You're getting sleepy...very sleepy.

Strenuous working conditions, irregular work schedules, and extended hours can all lead to fatigue - and fatigue can create or exacerbate hazardous working conditions and even contribute to health problems. More than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts, or irregular shifts. 

Lack of sleep and/or extended periods of hard labor are the most obvious causes of workplace fatigue, but they aren't the only culprits. Your work environment might be contributing to your fatigue, too. In the manufacturing and construction industries, environmental conditions like constant loud noise or vibrations can exhaust employees. 

sleepy doggo

Feeling drowsy? Nearly 7 out of 10 workers feel tired on the job, and that means accidents are more likely to occur: about 45% of employers report fatigue-related safety incidents.

Just tired?

It's easy to joke about how adulthood is just being tired for the rest of your natural life, but just being tired is a genuine health and safety risk. Fatigued workers might show symptoms of depression, weariness or irritability, slow reaction times, lower motivation, and increased susceptibility to accidents or illness -- all of which can spell disaster on a job site.

And when it comes to operating heavy machinery, losing sleep can have the same effect as alcohol. Awake for more than 20 hours? You may as well be over the legal limit to drive. And you're three times more likely to be in a car crash if you're, say, from long shifts or lack of sleep.

george michael

Keep an eye out for signs of fatigue, like lack of concentration, unusual risk-taking, or collapsing on the floor when you get home.

Get some shut-eye.

The best way to avoid workplace fatigue is also the simplest: just get more sleep. But those 7-9 hours can seem like a distant dream when faced with the realities of 24/7 job site coverage and shift work. In these cases, it's up to team members to use your off-time to rest and try to ensure the sleep you get is as high quality as possible.

Exercise is one great way to improve your sleep by exhausting your muscles and creating adenosine, a chemical which helps you sleep.

Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages too close to sleep. Alcohol might make you feel drowsy but it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, and caffeine keeps you alert by blocking adenosine.

Blue light from your phone or TV can keep your body from producing melatonin, the hormone that tells you it's bedtime, so cut out screen usage at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Finally, keep your bedroom cool and dark. Blackout curtains keep light from slipping in and waking you up. And a room in the 60-68 degree F range stimulates melatonin production to send you straight to dreamland.


Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each day so you can rise and shiine!

Make it a habit.

The key to fatigue risk management lies not just in balancing workloads, workplace design, and employee training, but on making those things part of your daily routine. Dennis Group Safety Managers check in regularly to watch for signs of fatigue and monitor the workplace to mitigate fatigue-related safety risks and encourage team members to look out for one another and alert a supervisor if they notice signs of fatigue in a co-worker.

Ultimately, workplace fatigue can be mitigated through a combination of employer initiatives like developing schedules to keep extended hours to a minimum and provide adequate opportunities for rest, and employees taking personal accountability for their needs and health. A well-rested work site is a productive and efficient -- and safe -- work site.

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.

National Safety Month: Slips Trips and Falls

A male worker wearing work boots in a warehouse walking into a liquid spill on the floor.

National Safety Month:

Now that you’re on the alert for hazards, let’s address some of the most common…and how to avoid them.

Sure, Charlie Chaplin slipping on a banana peel is hilarious, but falls can cause severe injury on the worksite and are the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths (about 17%). Read on to see how you can keep from falling down this slippery slope.

Don't get tripped up.

Ladders, rugs, slick walking surfaces, cluttered floors, and poor lighting: they all mean slips and trips.

Good housekeeping can minimize the likelihood of a fall by clearing the worksite of clutter and cleaning up spills. Burned-out lights should be quickly replaced so workers have a clear line of sight. Consider replacing rugs that wrinkle up underfoot with durable peel-and-stick mats to provide better traction.

Kick workplace falls to the curb.

One-quarter-inch trip lips are difficult to see and easy to catch with the toe of a shoe, sending workers sprawling. Make sure to clearly delineate trip lips, step-ups, and curbs so that workers can easily spot them and make the necessary adjustments.

Keep the worksite clear of clutter that could trip you up, and be sure to wear appropriate shoes (in this case, tap). 

Stay focused.

Sometimes the hazard isn’t the worksite; sometimes it’s our own inability to pay attention. Workers who are distracted by texting or looking at their phones or who aren’t watching where they’re going can take a bad spill even if the above hazards are mitigated.

Encourage workers to stop until they’ve finished with their message or wait until they’re in the break room. A focused work environment isn’t just more productive; it’s also safer.

Make it a habit.

Dennis Group Safety Managers always include slips, trips, and falls on our daily Job Site Analysis. We provide Job Hazards posters to help workers make a habit of identifying accidents waiting to happen and mitigating them before they do.

Extension cord laying in the hallway? Hang it up. Job site slippery with mud? Wear shoes with good traction and keep walkways clear. And be sure to review the daily Job Site Analysis with contractors in the field to address any concerns and keep up the commitment to a safe site.

Clearly delineate curbs and trip lips so they're easy to see. Keep the worksite well-lit (and, ideally, rain-free).

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.


National Safety Month:

If you’ve ever been kept up at night worrying about a big upcoming task, or if you’ve dreaded a tough conversation, you know that humans are exceptionally good at picking out the worst-case scenario and focusing on it with laser precision.

Advice blogs will tell you to try to consider more positive outcomes. I’m here to tell you that your highly-tuned pessimism is a manifestation of your sense of self-preservation and you should listen to it – at least when it comes to safety.

Look into the future.

The key to recognizing hazards is foresight. There’s no crystal ball involved, just one question:

What if?

What if when you take a tight turn around the next corner, and someone else is turning around it at the same time? What if one or both of you have your hands full?

Observing a potential hazard gives you the ability to avoid it – like by taking that corner at a wider turn – and ensure it’s mitigated for the safety of everyone on the worksite.

DG Safety Tip:

Housekeeping isn’t just for spring cleaning. A disorderly, dirty workplace can cause serious safety hazards, from clutter and debris causing a trip and fall hazard to rising workplace stress and plummeting morale.

DG Safety Tip:

Having fresh eyes and different perspectives on the worksite can be the difference between a missed or a mitigated hazard. Encourage contractors to be vocal about any hazards they spot or other safety concerns.

Connect the dots.

Recognizing the potential hazard is a good first step. The next is to contextualize it.

A concrete floor might be flat and clear – but a dewy morning makes it a slip hazard. An especially hot day can lead to fatigue, dehydration, and heat exhaustion – or even heat stroke. A hard frost overnight can mean slip and fall injuries thanks to ice the next day.

Your observational skills will be most tested by hidden or unobtrusive hazards, such as a burned-out lightbulb or a clogged exhaust fan. Regular workplace inspections, like the daily inspections conducted by Dennis Group safety managers, can identify hazards and mitigate them, but observant contractors can often spot and report any missed dormant or potential hazards.

Keep an eye out for these common hazards:

Chemical: compressed gases, solvents, lead
Physical: noise, vibration, heat, cold, radiation
Ergonomic: poor workplace design, jobs with repetition, force, and poor posture
Biological: bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, insects
Machine: moving parts like rotating shafts, belts, pulleys, blades, saws
Energy: pneumatic or hydraulic pressure, electricity, steam, gravity
Material Handling: manual and mechanical handling like lifting, lift trucks, conveyors

It's all in the mindset.

You might feel like Chicken Little waiting for the sky to fall but being aware and attuned isn’t about seeing dangers everywhere: it’s about cultivating a regular habit of active observation. Instead of just absorb the sights around you at a work site, remember to ask yourself what if? and what else?

At Dennis Group, our safety managers take a systematic approach to finding and mitigating safety hazards by creating a daily Job Safety Analysis and reviewing it with contractors in the field.

 Soon, spotting hazards will become second nature – and you and your site will be that much safer.

Our safety record is one of the best in the business.

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.