Steve Frost Addresses an Industry Stigma by Putting Mental Wellness at the Forefront
When Steve Frost went back to school at the age of 25 to obtain a degree in environmental studies, little did he know that one day his passion for sustainability and conservation, coupled with his caring nature, would transition into a career in construction safety, impacting an untold number of lives.
Steve worked in a few different industries before taking a brief OSHA refresher course in which he realized that in many previous situations, he had not received adequate safety training or tools. From that moment on, he knew his focus lied in safety and advocating for construction workers.
“My goal is to make a connection with everyone on the jobsite, let them know that I am available and that I care about not only their safety, but their overall health and wellbeing,” explains Steve. “Over time, I’ve realized that letting people know I am a resource is sometimes all they need to buy into safety.”
In 2017, Steve joined Howard S. Wright, a Balfour Beatty company, as a site safety health and environmental manager with the Portland, Ore. team. Over just a brief period, Steve has made impactful contributions to local training programs by creating innovative modules, hosting informational sessions and incorporating a database to manage all training credentials. Of course, that’s not all. Steve also periodically presents on important industry topics including erosion control, leading-edge fall protection, silica and more.
He didn’t just stop at jobsite safety.
In 2016, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released devastating statistics about occupational and industry-specific suicide rates. For Steve, and the collective Balfour Beatty family, one statistic hit far too close to home: construction workers are the second highest at-risk occupation group for suicide. Industry experts have identified suicide risk factors including schedule pressures, time away from families, major skills gaps, sleep problems and injuries, only to name a few. Steve felt a deeply personal calling to reverse this trend through a dedicated focus on mental health.
He started simple, gathering stickers to hand out at jobsite orientations and a few suicide prevention posters retrieved from the carpenter’s union.
“If we’re not talking about it, people aren’t going to say anything about it,” explains Steve. “They don’t think they will have someone there that they can talk to. Through my jobsite orientations, they understand that I’m here to listen, and we also have these resources available if you’re in a crisis moment.”
But Steve still wanted to do more.
Steve began searching for a suicide prevention program or organization which he could adopt and leverage for the Portland team. Soon after, he was aligned with “Need to Talk? Talk to Me!” a program originally launched and led by Carolyn Nelson, safety health and environmental manager with Balfour Beatty’s Seattle team along with the assistance of her teammates.
During Construction Safety Week 2019, after working diligently and in collaboration with our Seattle teammates, Steve officially launched “Need to talk? Talk to me!” in Portland. The positive response he received was overwhelming. To Steve’s surprise, the first day he brought light to the suicide epidemic at a safety meeting a worker stayed behind to talk. So, he did just that. Steve spoke to the tradeswoman for over an hour and relayed the information he needed to receive proper care and support. He continued to share the program across multiple Balfour Beatty offices and jobsites.
The purpose of the “Need to Talk” initiative is to provide Balfour Beatty’s project leadership with immediate access to resources for responding to mental health situations. If a project team chooses to participate in the “Need to Talk” initiative, all project leaders must complete the “Need to Talk” training to become a designated listener. Designated listeners are not expected to directly address mental health situations, but instead are equipped with immediate access to resources for responding to the situations. By providing the resources to the worker in need, they provide the potential for answers, guidance and help.
Shortly after, Steve was approached to help launch a construction industry suicide prevention program and has since become a leader within the Oregon Construction Industry Suicide Prevention Task Force. The organization held their first meeting in December 2019, and what started at about 50 members across all facets of the industry has grown to over 70 members. Their goal is clear. They want to be “the ‘one stop shop’ for the construction industry when it comes to launching a suicide prevention culture.”
Steve shares the availability of training programs at a variety of industry meetings such as the Construction Safety Summit, the American Society of Safety Professionals, Safe Build Alliance among others. His goal is to encourage the entire construction industry to take this epidemic seriously and consider establishing a suicide prevention program.
“The projects will go on and the lights will still come on, but if we aren’t doing our part to stress the importance of both physical safety on the jobsite and mental wellness, our industry can’t truly be successful in the long run,” says Steve.
Now THAT is making safety personal.