March Behavioral Health Column

VPPPA has partnered with the experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly article addressing issues and questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your concerns about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues, and more. 

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations ​

March is Women’s History Month, and it is only fitting that we pay respect to the role women play in the workforce, particularly in industries where physical safety is a priority. While women are still a small presence in the construction industry – approximately 9% of the workforce – there are reasons to grow that number. For example, the statistics reported by the Bureau of Labor in 2021 showed a very narrow gender pay gap compared to other professions. Women earn 99.1% of what men make in the field. Additionally, the process of working as a team in building can feel personally and professionally rewarding. 

​How can we build a safe and supportive environment for women in construction? Let’s think about the way psychological safety – an important topic in the workplace that was coined by Harvard professor, Amy Edmondson – can help build a different type of safe environment. It begins in two ways:

1. Committing to a larger cultural change in a company or industry alliance.
2. Taking specific steps to support women in their professional development.

Supporting all employees – regardless of gender, race, age and ethnicity – benefits everyone at work. Here are some ways that organizations can honor women’s roles in the workplace and make construction a welcoming career choice:

Build and maintain a respectful environment – that is free of sexually intimidating or harassing behaviors that might be deemed intimidating and inappropriate. This includes inappropriate images, language and stories that are told on the job.

Community for women – create opportunities for women to learn together and support one another.

Include men too! – creating a respectful environment for women benefits men on the job as well. Invite all employees of all genders to discussions about mental health, self-care and empowerment. Male allies in the workplace are invaluable to women’s success, and again, benefits everyone.

Awareness events – When women are a minority by number in an industry workforce, it’s important to keep motivation and professional conversations alive through regular educational events.

Networking for all – too often networking is seen as a professional activity for office workers, but the reality is that people in all job roles benefit from mentorship and meeting new people who work in similar jobs. Professional growth is important for women’s sense of professional identity – whether you are a carpenter, electrician, engineer, designer or foreman.

Keep work fun – Humor and laughter lightens the mood and can help create strong relationships among team members. Of course, it’s important that humor be funny without putting down any group of people.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.