Construction Worker Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention
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 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||Behavioral Health Conditions||Stressors|
|Fatigue||Stress and anxiety||Financial pressures from seasonal, cyclical work|
|Musculoskeletal disorders||Depression||Isolation from out-of-town work/travel|
|Chronic pain||Heavy/binge drinking||Separation from family and other support|
|Sleep disorders||Tobacco use||Overtime|
|Obesity||Substance misuse/Substance Use Disorder||Fatigue from rotation day/night shifts|
|High Blood Pressure||Suicide||Pressures of perfectionism|
|Cardiovascular Disease||Opioids for pain management||Job and duty pressures|
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.
When you think of construction, you think of the stoic “tough worker” work ethic, right? This kind of mentality sets the tone that feelings should not 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-related activities or stress relieving outlets are not as easily available.
Job, Task, and Environment 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 (MSK) sprains and strains, which can cause long-term chronic pain. These MSK injuries result in prescriptions for opioid pain management prescriptions in construction at a rate two times higher than other industry group.
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. According to the National Safety Council, 19% of construction workers have a Substance Use Disorder.
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). While these numbers are positive, construction isn’t seeing the same reduction trend in the number and nature of serious injuries and/or fatalities (SIFs).
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, contributes to incidents and injuries, as well as quality defects leading to rework and waste.
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 (SIFs)
- 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
Our Holmes Murphy Construction team is equipped to help your organization tackle the stigma, elevate the importance of mental health and wellbeing, and shift the “toxic masculinity” mindset in the construction industry to a discussion about creating a caring culture.
On top of this, 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 Construction 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.