Mental Health Initiatives for Construction Professionals

By November 14, 2019 Safety

Did you know one in five Americans struggle with a mental health condition?  Society has created a stigma of those people affected by this disease usually targeting women, teenagers and abuse victims – typically not men since many people assume men are stronger and less vulnerable to becoming a victim of mental health struggles.  Society has stated that men feel that mental health issues are unimportant or avoid seeking help out of fear.  This is evident in the construction industry especially since managers are increasing training and physical safety on the job site but they are pushing aside the issue of mental health. 

A Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) report across 17 states found that the construction and extraction occupational group had the highest male suicide rate in 2012 and 2015.  Men in positions that are both high skill and high-risk, like site managers, are 1.5 times more likely to die from suicide.  Low-ranking, uneducated workers are also at high risk for mental health issues and self-harm. 

Construction workers put in long hours and are often exhausted on top of seasonal employment schedules.  Many of the employees do not have more than a high school education which can make finding work during the downtimes difficult.  People seem to experience low self-esteem and feel discouraged when they are unemployed which can lead to physical and mental health issues. Workplace culture can lead to employees having substance abuse problems and harassment among coworkers.  This can lead to self medication rather than seeking the help from a medical professional. 

Employers and management should put better safety strategies as a top priority.  Physical injuries don’t only always cause damage to the body but to the mind.  Eighty five percent of chronic pain sufferers also experience severe depression.  When manual laborers are in a position where they can’t work up to their highest potential, they might become depressed and feel like a failure. 

Increased safety measures protect against both physical and mental damage and help provide a better atmosphere within the job site.  The construction industry is an industry that has a higher rate of fatal injuries than most other industries and employers can lower these statistics by implementing better safety protocols. 

Trainings should be conducted on safe driving techniques, loading and unloading shipments, equipment maintenance and personal protective equipment.  It was found that 25% of construction workers didn’t receive any training regarding protective gear such as hard hats, hazmat suits, goggles and gloves.  Training negligence has detrimental effects within any workplace. 

Employers should encourage open communication about mental health among workers.  Your employees need to feel safe and protected in their work environment where they can share their struggles and concerns without feeling discouraged or facing any criticism from others.  Psychological screenings should be readily accessible for those seeking a diagnosis. 

The Construction Industry Blueprint provides a guide for managers and employers on how to talk to their workers who might be at risk for suicide.  The blueprint includes scripts for starting discussions and giving presentations on the importance of mental health.  It also provides checklists for employers to measure the quality of their company’s mental health initiatives and make improvements where they feel it may be necessary. 

Some workers may want to see a therapist.  If this is the case, employers need to provide flexible scheduling for their workers to attend these appointments during the workday.  Employee assistance programs with on-site counselors and therapists can serve as another alternative. 

Many people acknowledge they may have a mental illness but don’t do anything about it and go on with their every day lives. Some construction companies have integrated activity trackers to help employees monitor their physical responses while working.  These trackers allow workers to address physical issues they may not have seen before.  By using this technology, employees have started to eat better, take more breaks throughout the day and learn to practice calming breathing exercises when the stress becomes high. 

By monitoring stress and heart rates, workers can be more in tune to how their jobs affect their well being.  They can make healthier decisions regarding their workload and request a schedule to accommodate their needs. Construction companies can benefit from supplying their workers with the energy tracking tools for analyzing data. 

Construction companies are actively making improvements about tackling the mental health stigma and Frontier Industrial corp is keeping the health and safety of their employees number one. 

Article adapted from: https://www.constructconnect.com/blog/mental-health-initiatives-for-construction-professionals