Faces of EHS, Mental Health and Psychological Safety, Safety Culture

Faces of EHS: Mandi Kime on Healthy Workers and Psychological Safety

Mandi Kime has spent the last 15 years as the Director of Safety at Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Washington. Associated General Contractors of Washington is the Seattle-based chapter of the AGC of America. AGC is the largest and oldest construction association in the United States. The Washington Chapter represents roughly 600 employers in Washington by providing safety, labor, legislative, insurance, educational and networking support to professionals in the commercial construction industry.

She has also worked for electrical and telecommunications contractors as well as a brief stint in the agriculture sector. She has been very busy the last few years chasing her passion of saving lives related to mental health, suicide and substance misuse. She has spent the last 22 years working in the construction industry and it hurts her heart that so many construction professionals are lost to mental anguish.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Mandi to discuss how she got her start in the industry, prioritizing mental health, and the importance of healthy workers and psychological safety.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

My dad was a safety professional, and I always thought he had an easy job. Until I looked at the science behind it. I was determined to make my own name in the industry though, so I was thrilled to work an internship in agriculture with my step-dad instead of going in to construction. But when I needed to find another internship and then permanent employment, agriculture really had no opportunities due to the economy at the time. I heard AGC was hiring, and so I jumped at it. I interned with them one summer, and the next summer, they just so happened to have a position open, and I landed the job. Aside from a brief stint working for electrical and telecommunications companies, I have spent all of my 22-year career working for AGC.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

It is hard to put my finger on one big influence (I mean, my dad did get me started) but I can honestly say there have been so many people that have held space for me. I know we hear a lot about how hard it can be to be a woman working in a male-dominated industry, but my experience has been unique because most of the time, I have had men cheering me on and encouraging my success. Very rarely have I had them hindering me. I can also say, as far as inspiring me in the work I do on mental health and suicide prevention, there is no better mentor or cheerleader than Cal Beyer, who first introduced me to the statistics and asked for my engagement. He has been a constant north star on this journey.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

I love this question so much! About 12 years ago, in a fit of frustration, I let my mouth get ahead of me, and said something hurtful via email. It could have been a career-changer, but instead I was able to learn from it, rebuild the professional relationship and it helped fuel the work I did on our Culture of CARE program at AGC. It helped me see that EVERYONE deserves to feel included and psychologically safe, and also that words can hurt worse than physical injury. It helped me take responsibility for myself and the impact I make with my words and actions on the good days as well as the rough ones. It is a painful lesson to see your own words reflected back at you when you are in a calmer state and can really see past your own point of view.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything? 

My absolute favorite part of working in the industry is people. I love working with people (some days it can be my least favorite part, too). As a mom of four kids (triplets plus one), I can get overly “peopled” some days and I have learned that it is wise to force myself to take a time out to regroup so that the anxiety doesn’t eat at me. The hardest part of the job is losing people. I got into safety to help people, so each loss feels like a failure, and I still struggle to process those losses at times. Even when I don’t directly know the worker.

The one thing I would change is the way that safety sometimes becomes a catch-all for the stuff that no one knows how to do or wants to deal with. It forces EHS professionals to become a jack of all trades, which is fine if there is support for them to succeed, but all too often it falls on overworked professionals without the resources to effectively manage the challenge. Or even worse, it becomes a blame game where no one wins.

Q: What are your thoughts on safety culture? How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

I think we have to get back to connecting with humans. We cannot treat our teams like robots or numbers and expect them to foster a top-notch safety culture. It starts with recognizing and valuing people’s talents and experience, then leveraging their strengths for the best good. We also have to respect our teams enough to empower them to make good decisions, and be ready with accountability if that goes awry. Company leaders cannot look to safety as a “cost center” but rather a “sound investment.” Company leaders also bear a large responsibility for setting the right tone with their teams. 

Q: What safety concerns or issues do you think need more prioritization in EHS programs?

I could spend days on this, but will just focus on [the health of all workers]—and not from the standpoint of the employers taking ownership of their employees’ health. But rather, I’d like to see that the company expresses its deep appreciation for the workforce, offers encouragement to invest in their own health and well-being and then backs that up with the resources to maximize their health with tools like: mental health assessments, physical health assessments, PTO policies that actually allow a person to take time off, tools and materials for bolstering employee health, and recognizing that the whole person comes to work, not just the part that does the work.

Q: What are you most proud of?

Aside from my children, I am most proud of the work I have done in the mental health space. I have heard so many stories from people thanking us for opening up their hearts to the issue and the subsequent stories of lives saved and crucial conversations had. Together we are squashing stigma and helping people get help and hope.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

As a newer person in industry, do not be afraid to take up space, but do so in a curious way rather than an authoritarian way. Never be afraid to say “I am not sure, but I will research that” rather than giving false information. Befriend the most abrasive opponents of your work or your presence, the best way to do that is by connecting to their humanity. Learn their names, their family’s names, their hobbies, and find common ground. That common ground can be a real game changer when you are asking for changed behavior. Lastly, have fun. Safety is serious but we can do serious work while having fun and being pleasant. Nobody wants to befriend a super serious, grumpy, or controlling EHS professional. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d love to challenge all EHS professionals to take stock of how they add value to their organization and their loved ones. Take a breath now and then and remember why you got into this line of work. And lastly, do what you can to protect your own mental health because this can be a grueling profession…and the work we do is so critical to so many. We are protecting others by investing in ourselves and our own wellbeing so we can effectively do our work. Take a mental health assessment, make goals for yourself, practice good self-care, and remember the power of rest and recovery for ourselves. You matter, you add value, and our profession is better with you in it. So please take good care of yourself. 

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