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Wellbeing Is More Than Just a Buzzword

The construction industry has the one of the highest rates of suicide among all industries, only behind oil and gas extraction. Suicide in construction is more than three times higher than the rate for the general population in the United States, and construction has the highest number of suicides among all occupations. 

The reality in construction is that more workers die by suicide annually than die by all other occupational fatalities on jobsites. What can be done to address this alarming trend?

Construction companies need to re-evaluate their risk mitigation approach and implement worker wellbeing into their overall safety and health strategy to address the physical health, behavioral health and stressors that workers face each day, focusing on the underlying conditions that impact each one of these areas.

Physical Health Conditions

  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep disorders

Behavioral Health Conditions

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heavy/binge drinking
  • Tobacco use
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicide

Stressors

  • Financial pressures from seasonal cyclical work
  • Isolation from out of town work/travel
  • Overtime
  • Fatigue from rotating day/night shifts
  • Pressures of perfectionism
  • Budget, production, schedule, quality, and safety job pressure

Why Are Wellbeing Risks So High in Construction?

We’ve seen the statistics, now the question becomes why?

There are many underlying factors that can influence the overall risk, including the low social image of construction and how other careers are more esteemed.

Additionally, workers are paid on an hourly basis, so if work is canceled by weather, schedule, or sequencing delays, there is no pay. This creates access barriers to adequate medical healthcare and behavioral health services.

The ebb and flows of economic cycles, combined with end-of-project furloughs and seasonal layoffs, impact the financial wellbeing of workers. Construction is a pressure-packed industry with increasing demands to meet rising performance standards in schedule, budget, productivity, quality, and safety. This stress can impact the wellbeing of the workforce.

On top of that, these additional factors play a role.

Workforce Culture

When you think of construction, you think of the stoic “tough worker” work ethic, right? This kind of mentality sets the tone that feelings shouldn’t be talked about. The job simply needs to get done.

Mental Health Stigma

That tough worker mentality leads right into workers being afraid to bring up mental wellbeing issues as they feel other workers may look at them differently or see them as weak. The construction workforce lacks an understanding of mental wellbeing and fear what they don’t understand.

Company and Employer Factors

The nature of the work, location of work, schedule and sequence of work, and the amount of overtime can lead to mental wellbeing issues. Think of those construction workers who are assigned out-of-town work. Their family life quickly becomes disrupted, and their social support systems are virtually gone. On top of that, any non-work activities or stress relieving outlets aren’t as easily available.

Job, Task, and Environmental Stressors

Long hours, rotating shifts, physically and mentally demanding working conditions, and harsh environmental conditions can be hard on the body. These can lead to a high potential for musculoskeletal sprains and strains, which can cause long-term chronic pain.

Lifestyle Choices

Lifestyle choices impact every aspect of a worker’s life. It can be as big as whether a worker is receptive to seeking medical care and behavioral health services, or how they manage their stress.

Other lifestyle choices, such as alcohol and substance misuse, are prevalent in construction, further complicating worker wellbeing.

What’s “Under the Hardhat”?

For the past two decades, the construction industry has experienced a steady decrease in the frequency of non-fatal injuries (Total Recordable Incident Rate [TRIR] and/or Days Away, Restricted or Transferred [DART] cases). Wile these numbers are positive, construction isn’t seeing the same reduction trend in the nature of severity of serious injuries or the total number of yearly fatalities.

Contractors need to understand that their workers don’t just show up at the jobsite and check their distractions at the front gate. Workers bring many of their outside distractions and personal challenges with them to work.  These distractions can lead to a level of presenteeism that contributes to a lack of engagement and concentration on work tasks. This, in turn, leads to incidents and injuries.

Many contractors believe the way to fix a safety problem (incidents and injuries) is to implement a new safety program. Simply put — that doesn’t solve the problem. The bottom line is that contractors need to focus their efforts on the mental wellbeing and suicide prevention aspects of their workforce. It’s a shift in safety thinking from programs to a focus on the worker’s mindset: “What’s under the hardhat?”

The effects of distraction and presenteeism by workers can include the following:

  • Increased near hits/misses
  • Serious injuries and fatalities
  • Reputational risk

These effects can also have an impact on company profits, including:

  • Quality defects and rework
  • Schedule impacts and overtime
  • Sequence and schedule delays
  • Unnecessary overtime
  • Equipment damage
  • And many more

Our Help Is Concrete

To help you better understand how to implement a worker wellbeing culture within your company, we’ve created a Construction Wellbeing Model that provides a framework for developing and implementing a tactical strategy to improve and support your workers and company.

Or, if you’re simply interested in learning more about our Worker Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention service and how we can help you tackle the issues your employees may be dealing with, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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