The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on the mental health of nearly everyone in the world. Economic uncertainty, forced solitude and worries about contracting the virus have increased stress levels in most adults.
But even before the pandemic, construction workers were particularly susceptible to mental health issues and suicide. More construction workers die by suicide each day than all workplace-related fatalities combined with a rate of 43.5 suicides per 100,000 workers, second only to the mining and oil/gas extraction industry.
Following a multi-year initiative to combat opioid misuse in home building, NAHB is launching a new effort focused on member mental wellbeing. Recent research suggests that industry associations have been overlooked as an agent for change, and that they have a role to play in promoting the importance of worker health and wellbeing to their member organizations.
To kick off this initiative, at the recent virtual Spring Leadership Meetings, Cal Beyer, Vice President of Workforce Risk & Worker Wellbeing at construction risk management firm CSDZ, spoke to members of the Construction Liability, Risk Management, and Building Materials Committee and the Construction Safety & Health Committee, which are spearheading the initiative. During his presentation, “Focus on Workforce Wellbeing: What’s Under the Hardhat,” Beyer described some risk factors that may explain why construction workers are more prone to mental health issues and suicide.
Many skilled trade workers are perfectionists, a trait important to successful work performance. But when combined with deadlines and a physically demanding work environment, it can lead to escalating stress. Construction workers are also traditionally stoic about mental and physical health issues as it may lead to missed work and missed paychecks. Long hours, the cyclical and transient nature of the work, and financial pressure can also lead to mental strain.
While the health of the worker is the primary concern, mental wellbeing should be on the radar of company owners and managers. Stress can lead to illness and absenteeism and, of particular concern, presenteeism – being physically present at work but distracted and “half there.” A distracted worker is not a safe worker, to themselves and others. Beyer talked about understanding the different signs of stress – physical, psychological and behavioral.
Unfortunately, many construction companies have yet to incorporate mental health, substance abuse, addiction recovery, and suicide prevention into safety, health, and wellness culture and programs. A major reason for this gap is due to stigma. Beyer concluded his remarks, however, by highlighting some of the positive steps the industry is taking to the promote workplace mental health awareness and reduce the stigma attached to mental health. Beyer and CSDZ have created resources for the construction industry to deal with stress and mental health issues, including resources for employers, a toolbox talk on self-care and suicide prevention resources.
Beyer and other mental health experts advise employers to create a workplace that promotes respect and to offer specific recommendations to all workers, including:
- Encouraging workers to talk to their families, friends and other trusted people in their lives about their problems
- Staying hydrated on the job site
- Eating well-balanced meals
- Spending leisure time in nature
- Setting limits on digital information intake, especially political news
Above all, employers should be open to listening to any concerns raised by workers about their stress levels or mental health issues.
NAHB has also joined the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) in an effort to raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide in the construction industry. More information on the efforts of the Alliance and NAHB’s member mental wellbeing initiative will be forthcoming.