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Two Major Considerations for Off-The-Job Safety in November

Driver fastens seatbelt in winter looking depressed

November ushers in a rush of holiday preparations along with several seasonal risks. Relevant toolbox talks could include discussions on Thanksgiving, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, the “Tie One On for Safety” campaign, disease prevention, and carbon monoxide poisoning. However, recognizing that workers may face additional challenges in their personal lives during this period, introducing two more subtle (but equally dangerous) off-the-job safety topics can maintain relevance and actively contribute to ensuring your workers’ safety throughout the holiday season.

National Seat Belt Day

November 14 is National Seat Belt Day. For most, putting on your seat belt is something that you do automatically as soon as you get in a vehicle. This is considered a keystone habit—putting on your seat belt when you get in the car shifts your focus to driving safely when you put the vehicle into gear. But you need to be talking about seat belt use in your workplace in order for employees to think about the safety aspect of putting on their seat belts. Once the seatbelt habit becomes so automatic you’re not thinking about it, it loses some of its ability to prompt a further focus on safe actions. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the national seat belt use rate was at 91.6% in 2022. But the NSC reports that it wasn’t that long ago when the stats were significantly less. In 2000, only 70.7% of front-seat passengers were observed using seat belts, and 60.2% of occupant deaths were unrestrained. Complacency can downplay risks when you’re taking a quick trip to the store or going to a friend’s house within your neighborhood—it’s tempting to go without a seat belt for such a short distance—and if those quick trips are factored into the statistics, the numbers would be much lower than they were in the year 2000. 

And this is bad news for getting people to focus on risk. Without the keystone effect, the first good habit doesn’t trigger the next so drivers will need another cue or strong skills and habits to offset the effects of complacency. Just like the alarm that sounds when seatbelts aren’t fastened, people may need another signal that it’s time for safety when it is fastened.

Talking about seat belt use is a great topic for a toolbox talk. But don’t simply encourage people to wear their seat belts if they’re already doing it at habit strength. Recognize them for being safe on the road or wearing them when driving equipment at work and delve a little deeper into the topic of complacency or other human factors. Ask them if being in a rush might circumvent their seatbelt habit and ignore the alarm. And ask them what habits they could do in addition to their seatbelt habit that would prompt them to think about the risks of driving before they start moving. 

When it comes to off-the-job safety, focus on making it personal. Ask participants why wearing a seat belt is important to them. If they’re having a hard time focusing on their own safety, ask them how they feel about their loved ones forgetting to wear a seat belt or becoming complacent with driving risks and why it’s important for them. A SafeStart client once told us about their family habit of “counting the clicks” before driving to ensure everyone heard one seat belt click for each person in the car. This brilliant example provides redundancy for the driver’s memory and habit and an immediate reminder that everyone cares about each others’ safety.  

Fall Back Time Change Increase SAD

Another notable event on the calendar in November is Daylight Saving Time. When the clocks go back an hour in the fall it’s known as going back to “standard time,” and there are a lot of people rejoicing for the extra hour of sleep. But the fall back time change also marks a time when the days get shorter and it can have an impact on safety. Moving the clock back reduces daylight in the evening by an hour—which makes sense because when you think of the fall and winter, dark and dreary are often words used as descriptors. It’s believed that reduced amounts of daylight affect the levels of serotonin in a person’s body which has been linked to an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Feeling a bit down in the gloomy winter months is normal but when that sadness doesn’t go away, it might be something a little more serious. According to the Mayo Clinic Press, SAD is “more than just feeling blue or lacking energy on cold winter days, SAD involves persistent, pervasive symptoms of depression. Those symptoms may include feeling sad, angry or easily irritable most of the day nearly every day; lack of interest in activities once enjoyed; difficulty concentrating; persistent tiredness; lack of energy; and, in some cases, feeling that life isn’t worth living or having suicidal thoughts.”

SAD is a form of depression, but the good news is treatment options are available. You might recognize some of the symptoms in employees when their absences increase in the winter (this can be a bit tough as illness also increases in the winter months), their mood noticeably changes (and not for the better), they don’t have a lot of energy, they seem unable to concentrate, and their regular drive to complete their job isn’t there.

A toolbox talk about the symptoms of SAD is a great way to bring awareness to it so that those who suffer from this seasonal disorder might understand why they’re feeling the way they do. If SAD is suspected in your workplace, the first place to start is having the person talk to a mental health care professional.

In order to help with the winter blues (and SAD), here are a few things that can be done in the workplace.

  1. Encourage being outdoors – it’s harder to get people to go outdoors in the fall and winter months due to the weather, but a brisk walk can provide the exposure people need to natural light and the vitamin D it provides. Exercise can also help with the release of endorphins. Because of the limited outdoor time that workers experience, it’s not a bad idea to suggest that workers take a vitamin D supplement to help boost what they aren’t getting naturally.  
  2. Invest in phototherapy boxes – this bright light therapy mimics sunshine and can boost a person’s mood and eliminate the risk of SAD in as little as 20 minutes a day. Employees mustn’t look directly into the light—exposure to the light should be indirect. Place the lamp in a break room about two to three feet away from where a person would sit to eat, rest, or do other activities.
  3. Provide nutritious snacks – it can be challenging for some people to get the nutrition they need while at work. Vending machines with sugary treats offer convenience and comfort but it’s important to provide healthy options in equal measure and encourage the benefits of choosing them. Foods with the right vitamins and minerals can give the body the boost it needs to feel better.
  4. Reinforce the employee assistance program (EAP) – make sure that employees know about the benefits your EAP provides. When it comes to mental health, an EAP program usually includes a 24/7 telephone line as well as online resources that employees can confidentially access to support SAD or related feelings.
  5. Increase social gatherings – most companies set aside a budget for social activities within the company. It’s important to plan these in the winter months as socializing can help bring people out of isolation and help conquer the associated depression.

These workplace improvements to help prevent SAD may not seem significant but the combination of little things add up. It is also critical that supervisors recognize early warning signs and support their people on an individual basis. While people who suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder should seek professional help, it’s nice to go to work and have measures in place that can help. Talk to your employees about SAD and let them know what you’re doing to get through those dreary winter months.

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