When you think about the hazards of the construction industry, physical risks probably top the list- an unprotected fall, an unmarked restricted zone, etc. But what about the dangers you can’t see? Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts are as dangerous to worker safety as any tangible job-site threat, but these can’t be mitigated with caution tape.
The frequency of mental health issues within the construction industry is alarming- with one in five construction workers reporting struggles with mental health issues. According to the CDC, the construction and extraction industries have the second-highest rate of suicide – 53.3 per 100,000 workers. As such, it is an industry imperative for contractors, unions, project owners, and industry service providers to address suicide prevention in construction as a safety and health priority. While regulations and monitoring for physical safety have increased dramatically over the years, mental healthcare lags behind.
Working in construction is tough, and there is no denying it. But, is there a direct correlation between working in this industry and mental health issues? The CDC study found that the construction industry exhibits many common risk factors that are associated with feelings of helplessness:
Competitive, high-pressure work environment
High prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse
Physical strain and chronic pain caused by manual labor
Travel which may separate workers from families and friends
All of the above issues are only compounded by a work culture which valorizes “toughness.” As such, many workers feel forced to “deal with it,” not seeking out the help they need. Of course, an undeniable cause of the high suicide rate is the stigma surrounding mental health in the industry, and with men generally. Construction is a male dominated industry, and men have higher rates of suicide. In fact, for men between the ages of 25 and 54, suicide is the second biggest cause of death. A ‘tough guy’ culture is damaging to people’s mental well-being and safety because employees don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health. They may shame themselves for experiencing anxiety, distress, depressive and suicidal feelings because it contradicts the idea ingrained in them that males should not be affected by their emotions.
PRODUCTIVITY AND SAFETY
Every good employer cares about the wellbeing of their employees. It’s hard, however, to justify spending money on benefits packages or offering mental health days just because you care. Did you know that caring for employee mental health is actually better for your business? Employee mental health impacts productivity and workplace safety- two major factors in how much money your business is making.
Missed days is a big way that mental illness and mental health impacts productivity. One study found that employees with depression miss the equivalent of 27 work days a year though time off, lowered productivity, sick and personal days. Other impacts to productivity include social anxiety and depression. Fear of uncomfortable social interactions can stop an employee from reporting any mistakes or problems on site. Lowered communication abilities can impact understanding between an employee and supervisor. The result could be higher rates of miscommunication, incorrectly completed projects, and general confusion on site.
Mental illness can impact a person’s ability to be fully present in the workplace, which results in an increased risk of injury. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can lower awareness, cause sleep loss, impact decision making abilities and reaction time. Construction is an industry more prone to accidents as a whole because of the nature of the jobs; working around equipment, at heights, around electricity, and using tools all increase the chance of an accident happening. In 2010 workplace injuries for construction workers which resulted in 6 or more days off work cost the industry over $50 billion. General 2017 workplace injuries cost U.S. companies $161.5 billion in workers comp, medical bills, missed time, and administration efforts allocated to injuries. By caring about the well-being of your employees and striving to create a physically and mentally safe work environment, you can make your business more productive and safe.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To counteract this long-standing challenge, the mental health of your workforce needs to be prioritized at the same level as wearing safety goggles and tagging out live circuits. The key is to create a supportive environment where people aren’t afraid of being reprimanded or judged.
The best way to help employees who are suffering from a mental illness is to help them get the resources they need. This can be done through benefits programs, education of supervisors for how to speak about mental health, and creating a workplace culture which takes mental health seriously. Listen, show that you care, and make sure your business has the resources to make it easy for them to get the help they need. You can do this by:
Provide mental health days separate from sick days, and encourage employees to take them
Providing employee benefits which cover counselling, medication, and other medical resources
Train supervisors and company leaders in mental health first aid so they are equipped to help employees
Encourage conversations about mental health and include mental health awareness in safety training
Make sure all employees know that their jobs will be there for them if they take time to seek treatment for mental illness
One of the most powerful tools in your toolbox to fight against mental health issues is education. No progress can be made without a culture change, and every educated worker is a step closer to quashing the stigma that keeps workers from facing their inner demons. Research mental health outreach programs, and make these resources readily available to workers. Something like the Suicide Prevention Hotline is a proven resource that could save a worker’s life.
FIELDBOSS helps you manage your business so that you can reduce the stress and increase the efficiency of your organization. Our focus is to help you get the most out of your labour resources and deliver the information you and your staff need to run your business.