May is Mental Health Awareness Month. When you think about the dangers of the construction industry, physical risks are probably at the top of the list- working at great heights or handling heavy machinery, etc. But what about the dangers you can’t see? Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are just as dangerous to worker safety as any physical job-site threat.
Startling statistics reveal that suicide has become the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45. The NAHB reports that construction workers face a higher risk of suicide compared to all other workplace-related deaths combined. In fact, the CDC’s findings show that the construction and extraction occupational group holds the highest male suicide rate among major occupation groups.
Understanding the Risks
Several factors contribute to the heightened risk of mental health issues among construction workers. It is crucial to acknowledge why these risks exist to effectively address them:
- A highly competitive, “macho” culture
- Seasonal work and potential layoffs
- Expectations of overtime and long working hours, weekends and holidays
- Lack of job security, paid sick time, holidays, and access to company health plans
- Difficulty in securing payment from clients
- Physical exhaustion affecting life outside of work
- Workplace injuries leading to chronic pain, psychological trauma, and missed hours
- A high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse
- Separation from friends and family for extended periods of time
Taking Action: Making a Difference
To create a safer and healthier construction industry, contractors, unions, project managers, and industry service providers must prioritize mental health and suicide prevention. Mental health should be given the same level of attention as physical safety measures.
Here are some steps that should be implemented into company policy:
- Offer dedicated mental health days separate from sick leave, encouraging employees to use them.
- Offer employee benefits that cover counselling, medication, and other necessary medical resources.
- Train supervisors and executives in mental health first aid to equip them with skills to support their workforce.
- Foster conversations about mental health and integrate mental health knowledge into safety training programs.
- Ensure that workers are aware that taking time off for mental health care will not jeopardize their employment.
- Empower workers to seek resources by promoting the available support systems.
Addressing mental health challenges within the construction industry is a responsibility that we all share. Together, we can break the silence and create a safe workplace that prioritizes the mental well-being of every individual. Let’s work together to make a positive change and ensure a healthier future for the construction industry.