Chapter Corner

STRESS: More than Just Structural

Posted in: Safety Corner, March 2013

Insights_ConstrucHat.gifAs an electrical professional, we are no different than many others when it comes to stress; we deal with deadlines, commitments, financials, and other tasks associated with managing the business. Stress is our body's normal reaction to events that pull us in different directions. The effect of stress in our daily lives is sometimes quite visible but then again often it is not. Stress can be healthy but just like anything, too much can be unhealthy. Your mood, productivity, concentration, and general over-all health concerns are just a few negative results for someone under a lot of stress. For the electrical professional, stress has other possible safety impacts as things may become more complicated, especially for those who may find themselves working in and around energized equipment.

Managing Stress

It would be foolish for me to go down the road of stress avoidance; for many of us it’s a fact of life. The key here is to manage stress to healthy levels. Everyone is different when it comes to dealing with stressful situations; some thrive on it while others may have very low tolerances for it. You have to understand where your threshold is and manage around it. As an example, having to work in a cluttered space causes stress for some. Whether that space is your office, your garage, or a job site where you quite possibly may be working on energized equipment, if your work space causes you stress, by all means get it in order.

Because stress is unavoidable, we need to manage it. We can be successful through taking control, identifying stressful situations, and acting appropriately. This is easier said than done. The following five steps may be helpful to get you started on your journey to manage the stress in your life:

  1. Build Your Support Network – This is a net-work of individuals you can rely on for advice or simply to be an ear for venting, and could range from personal to professional.

  2. Control – This is more than just being in control,it’s a level of confidence. Confidence in yourself and your ability to recognize and deal with stressful situations.

  3. Emotions – Some are better at this than others.Controlling your emotions is very important when managing stress levels. Bring your emotions into balance.

  4. Knowledge/Preparation – I do not meanabout your job. It’s about recognizing stressful situations, dealing with them, and managing your expectations.
  5. Attitude and Outlook – I could argue that ifyou did the previous four steps, attitude and outlook come along for the ride. A healthy sense of humor and optimistic outlook are important.

Recognizing Symptoms of Stress

Insights_HealthStress.gifWhen we haven’t managed our stress well, symptoms usually show up in one form or another. The following are some general symptoms, but keep in mind that your reaction to stress may be different than others:

  • Memory loss/forgetfulness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Questionable judgment
  • Pessimism
  • Constant worry
  • Irritability
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Depression
  • Over or under eating
  • Isolation
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Nervous habits
  • Aches and pains
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Always being sick

These are just a few symptoms; a quick look at a medical reference or conversation with your doctor could uncover much more. Stress may not be healthy for your heart and pre-conditions could complicate the effects of stress. As you read the list of possible symptoms and think about the work you perform, it may be quite clear how stress can negatively affect your work performance. And for a person in the electrical industry, this could introduce severe negative effects.

Leveraging Your Safety Plan

Bringing order to chaos is usually a good thing. Falling back on procedures and safety requirements can help ensure that a job is completed efficiently and without incident. As we noted above, we are all under some level of stress and it may come both externally and internally as well. Yes we sometimes create our own stress. Falling back on a safety plan is a good way to begin.

Your safety plan should include various methods to keep your team well aware of electrical hazards. Reminding your team before every job helps keep their head in the game and focused on the job at hand. Making sure that your team works in pairs on projects will increase the chances that someone will be attentive to safety and ensure the other person is alert and attentive. Two heads are better than one. When your team is working through a work plan, checklist or some set of identified tasks, these actions help to ensure you are not relying solely on the individual’s memory. Establishing boundaries and ensuring that visible safety barriers are in place bring in yet another one of the senses to keep your team sharp. Flex your safety plan because your employees will be experiencing stress whether it’s from the work environment they are in or from home, we all have stress in our lives. Your safety plan is a great tool, use it.

Recognizing and managing stress is important for you, your business, and your team. I would argue that in our line of business, it’s just as important for the guy working next to you as it is for you. As electrical professionals we work with electricity: a threat we can’t see. Forgetfulness, loss of focus, and many more of the symptoms of stress are not baggage we want to bring on the job. We work from heights, in and around heavy equipment, on energized equip-ment, and on equipment that may not be energized but will be when we’re finished. What we work on could also be called upon to be operable for years after we’re gone. We can’t afford a mistake. It could jeopardize our life and the lives of those around us.

So let’s manage the stress in our lives and not let it interfere with the accuracy of our work. Let’s make sure we keep safety at the top of our list and ensure that we and those around us live to see another day.

Thomas Domitrovich, P.E. is a National Application Engineer with Eaton Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has more than 20 years of experi-ence as an Electrical Engineer and is a LEED Accredited Professional. Thomas is active in various trade organi-zations on various levels with the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Thomas is involved with and chairs various committees for NEMA and IEEE and is an Alternate member on NFPA 73. He is very active in the state by state adoption process of NFPA 70 working closely with review committees and other key organizations in this effort.