Everyplace Safety and Self: A dual concept that puts each worker front and center

By Andrew McCoy and Fred Sargent | May 15, 2022
A man, Joe Kopko, smiles in front of a black background. Image by Aaron Siegel.
For most electrical contractors, the terms “workplace safety” and “occupational safety” inspire mental images of construction sites. The changing nature of work and home life dictates a need to expand our imagination.

For most electrical contractors, the terms “workplace safety” and “occupational safety” inspire mental images of construction sites. The changing nature of work and home life dictates a need to expand our imagination. Today we need everyplace safety or round-the-clock safety.

We have all heard construction supervisors proudly explain that their most important objective is for everyone on the job to leave work in the same physical condition they arrived in. More recent advances in safety programs include concepts, such as Incident and Injury Free, that expand safety beyond the job site and into workers’ personal lives.

Notably, safety programs fail to focus enough on the bodily wear and tear workers suffer every day. These are the subtle assaults on their bodies that cumulatively add up over time, yet often could have been limited or prevented. Many consider it “out of bounds” to express concern about the potential consequences of their workers’ activities and behaviors after hours.

These factors have led us to roll out a new concept we named “Self and Safety.”

To talk about the “self” component, we invited Joe Kopko, a seasoned risk and loss expert who worked for years as a safety manager in a construction company and is now chief risk officer and vice president of commercial lines at insurance agency Seubert & Associates, to help us make the case for conjoining personal wellness with job-site safety.

Joe, we are proposing an entirely new worldview under which there's equal attention accorded to the health of each worker and the safety program on construction-related sites. It encompasses eating habits, exercise routines, sleep patterns, and, of course, mental states.

Imagine your life broken up into thirds: work life, home life and sleep. Despite efforts to create work-life balance and maintain a separation between business and personal, each one of those thirds has a direct impact on the others, and that impact is far-reaching. For example, stress at work leads to challenges at home, including poor sleep. Poor sleep patterns can place workers at risk of errors on the job. Problems at home can impact mental health and lead to “presenteeism,” where the workers are present, but their mind is not. Add in financial stress and the concern through which some of our workers fear they will never be able to retire. It all adds up and the cycle continues, compounding risks for workers and their company.

Applying a "Self and Safety" approach must also strive to curb the kinds of day-to-day assaults on workers' bodies that take their toll over time.

Absolutely, the cumulative effects of construction are often the catalyst for a strain to become a tear. But make no mistake, the extra pounds around our midsections aren’t doing any favors for our lower back or knees, not to mention what those hours of social media time looking down at a phone does to our necks and psyches. Yet, with some minor adjustments to personal habits, the help of employers responding to the evolving needs of their people, there is no telling how many additional, fruitful years of employment and wealth generation can be had. Remember, people don’t quit companies; they quit bosses. So, if better supervisory and management training is part of a “Self and Safety” reset, then employee engagement and retention will reverse present trends. This is not a quick-fix approach. It’s a realignment of the way we embrace our workers’ needs and prepare our leaders and supervisors to respond in real time and keep their company culture thriving.

Have you seen this sort of approach—or something akin to it—played out in other industries?

Many times, and with varied results, but common trends. The organizations that dig into the notion that they own the results of the issues that employees bring to work have much better success. With so much focus placed on attracting new talent into the industry, we lose sight of the forward-looking liability all employers face with their existing workforce, and how they can consistently contribute to prevent career-altering injuries. There is no doubt that our employees’ physical health, mental well-being and financial stability spill over into the workplace and affect how our businesses function. We must embrace a concept of “the whole worker.”

Compare this to the way we care for any of our fleet vehicles. We change the oil, pay attention to warning lights on the dashboard and remotely monitor how the vehicle is being driven—and what’s going on with it after normal working hours. Shouldn’t we apply the same kind of concern for our people?

There is no definitive measurement to gauge the results of developing a “Self and Safety” philosophy and the company culture that will arise from it. The impact of such efforts is felt and experienced, rather than calculated. To use a fashionable expression, it will lead to “employee engagement.” People who are engaged in their work stick around and contribute to those little daily victories that add up to great years—for themselves and their companies.

Joe Kopko. Header image by Aaron Siegel.

About The Author

MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].


SARGENT heads Great Service Forums℠, which offers networking opportunities, business development and professional education to its membership of service-oriented contractors. Email him at [email protected].





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