Industry and the working world have gone through a 30-year transformation it seems. While it once displayed the attitude of working through any and all issues as time was money, an alternative approach has manifested. No longer is the bottom line of productivity more important than the risk of injury or incident.
To provide a better balance to this approach, many companies subscribe to a Fit for Duty program. This type of program dictates what ailments and issues should deter an individual from working. While a debilitating injury kept someone from the workplace in the earlier years, now companies encourage employees to stay home if they are feeling ill. The greater picture is taken into consideration. While productivity is the primary goal, it will be nearly lost should one ill employee infect 10 more in the workplace. It is better to cut losses and let that one ill employee stay home and recuperate prior to returning to the workplace.
This is just one aspect of the Fit for Duty program. Its basic purpose is to ensure that each individual employee is not a potential threat to others. While this is an extremely important aspect, many fail to identify that it does not just apply to possible physical risks. There is an entirely different side addressed as the mental factor.
The mental factor covered in a Fit for Duty program is quite significant, but often overlooked. That is because the concentration on the bottom line monopolizes the attention of management. If a coworker cuts their hand with a circular saw, it is evident and concern is immediately mustered. This automatically institutes an excuse from working, as the injured party is no longer fit for duty. The entire event is cut and dry. The physical reason for not being fit for duty is visible.
The mental factor is not always so clear. An employee going through a divorce might be depressed and distracted. These factors could lead to injury or an incident. As a result, that employee is not fit for duty and should not be working.
But how do we know this? Remember, a physical condition or injury rears its ugly head, but a mental injury, if you will, is not so noticable. Unless the mental incapacities are so great and foregone that they are clearly identifiable, the issues can go without being addressed and injury or incident can surface.
It is common to attend a safety meeting the day before a holiday. Typically some employee or manager discusses keeping attention directed at the scope of work and not the Thanksgiving weekend. Those working hitch work are often met with a safety meeting on the eve of going home for days off. Coaching is directed at staying focused on one’s job task and not the family vacation or fishing trip scheduled during the two week off period.
While this is good practice, crews must continually survey their peers for elements of not being mentally fit for duty. If the coworker is overwhelmed by the death of a parent, keep an eye on that person and report potential distractive or unsafe behaviors of their actions. Other aspects of not being mentally fit for duty include marital trouble, concern for a sick child, financial problems, depression, and also being disgruntled with management. These are just a few of many potential factors that signify one is not fit for duty.
The physical aspect of a Fit for Duty program is the most popular. Unfortunately we have been conditioned to look for certain indicators and subscribe to tunnel vision. If a person is not limping, hunched over, or bleeding, physical inadequacies often go overlooked.
Obviously a coworker bent over with back pain should refrain from working. They are not fit for duty. If an individual is holding their hand and bleeding, the thought of stitches and missing digits comes to mind, another example of no longer being fit for duty.
Attention should be directed at other scenarios. Individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not be working as they are an endangerment to themselves and others. Someone who acts out due to aggravation can cause an undesired incident, therefore, they are not fit to be working. Probably a more common instance is the
coworker who is running a fever and cannot concentrate. This person is not at their very best and should not be responsible at that time for making decisions that can lead to less than ideal resulting situations. They should be excused from work under the terms of the company’s Fit for Duty program.
Combatting the Undesirable
Identification is paramount. Companies must train their employees on the specifics of a robust Fit for Duty program and then conduct refresher training on an annual basis. The workforce must participate in the process of identifying both mental and physical examples or situations where coworkers are not fit for duty and should not be working. We often try to live in a world with shades of gray, but this is not the case when it comes to workplace safety. One is either fit to work, or they or not.
Management must continually coach and mentor the workforce and display support for its Fit for Duty program. If workers see a true commitment, they will refrain from succumbing to fear and be more inclined to identify their peers who are clearly not mentally or physically fit to work.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]