Being tough enough to ask for help

A colleague talks about the emotional toil of work zone crashes, and why we need everyone's help to keep workers and travelers safe

By Barbara LaBoe

David Sacchini is tough.

He's worked on construction and road crews, put out a garage fire at his house and helped save a loved one's life with CPR. He's been hurt on the job. A few days before Christmas in 2017, he was hurt again while working with our bridge maintenance crew on the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle. The truck he was in was struck by a drunk driver and pushed 20 feet even though it had its brakes on.

But when Sacchini returned to job after that latest injury, he struggled.

He was anxious being back on the side of a road or bridge and worried about the responsibility for his crew. At times his heart was beating so hard during panic attacks that it felt like it was jumping out of his chest. He was also angry at the drunk driver who was going 120 mph when he struck Sacchini's work truck, putting everyone on the crew in danger.
Dave Sacchini (left) works on replacing an expansion joint on SR 520 in this 2012 picture. Dave says
he often wears white to make himself more visible to traffic.

Sacchini tried to hide his anxiety at work because he wanted to be strong for his crew. So he toughed it out most days, but at home he had trouble sleeping and was irritable, often taking it out on his family.

Eventually, he knew he needed help.

"It can be hard to ask for this kind of help but it's so important," Sacchini said during our annual Worker Memorial ceremony Wednesday in Olympia. The event is part of our National Work Zone Awareness week activities. "We need to do away with the attitude that we're tough and don't need help."
Bridge maintenance worker Dave Sacchini addresses the crowd at this year's Worker Memorial ceremony in Olympia.

Sacchini has worked with a counselor and said things are getting better. He's learned breathing exercises to help calm himself if he gets a panic attack, and he's also able to take time from work if needed to continue his recovery.

And, as he now tells his crew, he knows it's okay to be a little scared out in a work zone. They're dangerous places with vehicles passing just a few feet from the workers. Everyone out there should remember the dangers and stay alert, he said. Getting complacent is dangerous for everybody.

Help us help you
Sacchini also wants travelers to remember to stay alert and be extra cautious near work zones. Crews like his are out there helping keep roadways safe for everybody. They have family and friends and lives they want to return to at the end of each shift, and they need everyone's help to stay safe.

"I've had crew members literally run for their lives to get out of the way when vehicles veer in between our work trucks," he said. "Some members of my small crew have been struck more than once."

He now regularly shares the emotional effect of work zone crashes with his crew, making sure they're all checking in with each other and seeking assistance if they need it. They've become like a second family to him, he said.
Dave Sacchini, a bridge maintenance worker, shared his story with the Seattle
media about being injured in a work zone collision.

Sacchini spoke at Wednesday's ceremony because he wants everyone to understand the toll that work zone crashes can take on our crews. Broken bones or cuts are visible and the healing process is often straightforward. Emotional trauma is hidden and more insidious, he said, coming back at random times and without warning.

"We need to take the emotional and mental toll of our work zone experiences seriously," he said. "And we need to talk about it more."

Call it his new and improved form of toughness – reminding everyone that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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