A Survivor's Journey

Jeff Dabbs, A Survivor’s Journey 

Safety and Mental Health In Construction

In the fast-paced world of construction, where the clang of metal and the roar of machinery echo through the air, there lies a quieter, often overlooked aspect: mental health. It’s a topic seldom discussed amidst all the moving parts of a project, yet its importance cannot be overstated. Jeff Dabbs, a seasoned plumber with nearly three decades of experience, found himself thrust into the spotlight not for his craftsmanship, but for his remarkable tale of survival and resilience in the face of physical and mental trauma.

On a seemingly ordinary December day in 2017, Jeff began his routine duties, ready to tackle another repair job at an apartment complex. Little did he know, this day would rewrite the trajectory of his life. As he and his coworker diligently worked to mend a sewer line, tragedy struck in the blink of an eye. A trench collapse buried Jeff under thousands of pounds of dirt, leaving him fighting for his life, gasping for precious oxygen as panic and fear gripped his every breath.

The statistics surrounding such incidents are sobering. According to OSHA, two individuals lose their lives each month due to trench collapses in the United States, with a staggering mortality rate of 97%. Jeff defied these odds, emerging from the rubble battered and broken but undeniably alive. His harrowing experience serves as a moving reminder of the fragility of life and the pressing need for stringent safety measures within the construction industry.

I am going to take every safety precaution there is to make sure I'm safe, my coworkers are safe and I can go home at night." - Jeff Dabbs

A Survivor's Journey; trench collapse
The yellow line signifies the pipe being worked on and the red circle is the hole where Jeff was buried.

As Jeff recounts the events that forever altered his existence, one cannot help but marvel at his unwavering determination to turn tragedy into triumph. Despite enduring chronic pain and nerve damage, Jeff’s battle extended far beyond physical ailments. The invisible scars left by the trauma manifested in the form of anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all casting a shadow over his once-steadfast spirit.

Yet, amidst the recovery, Jeff found has found hope—and purpose fueled by advocacy and a desire to prevent others from facing a similar fate. In his appearance on the Give Us the Dirt podcast, he embarked on a journey of safety and mental health awareness, bravely sharing his struggles with PTSD and dismantling the stigma surrounding mental illness in a field where toughness is often equated with silence. His transparency serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of vulnerability.

Moreover, Jeff’s advocacy extends beyond mental health, encompassing a passionate commitment to safety in the workplace. He acknowledges the pivotal role that proper training and adherence to safety protocols play in mitigating risks and saving lives. Through his own experience, Jeff implores newcomers to the industry to prioritize safety above all else, emphasizing that attentiveness today can mean survival tomorrow.

During Mental Health Awareness month, Jeff’s story serves as a important reminder of the interconnectedness between physical and mental well-being. It underscores how crucial fostering a culture of safety and support within the construction industry is—a culture where conversations about mental health are met with empathy rather than indifference, and where every worker is equipped with the tools and resources to thrive.

Jeff’s journey encapsulates the indomitable resilience of the human spirit—a testament to the power of perseverance, advocacy, and the unwavering belief that even in the darkest of moments, hope prevails. His story will hopefully empower a spark of change, lighting a path toward a safer, healthier future for all who labor in the shadow of the earth.

If you or someone you know is showing warning signs , please get help.