When you think about jobsite hazards, 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, and more are as dangerous to worker safety as any more tangible jobsite threat, but these can’t be mitigated with caution tape.
Unfortunately, the frequency of mental health issues is increasing within the construction industry. In fact, one study found that one in five construction workers struggle with mental health issues.
This means that, of the people you work with every day — from happy-go-lucky Bill to Gina who always brings in donuts — chances are good that at least one of them struggles with their mental health. Or, maybe it’s you. From laborers to high-level executives, mental health issues affect people indiscriminately.
Your jobsite is not the exception.
The construction industry as a whole needs to work on improving mental health outreach and support, but that can only take place one jobsite at a time. May is national Mental Health Awareness Month, and although this element of employee safety should be a priority year round, there is no better time than now to educate yourself and begin making changes.
Industry Stats That Might Surprise You
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the construction industry is one of the most at-risk industries for suicide — period. While regulations and monitoring for physical safety have increased dramatically over the years, mental healthcare lags behind. But, mental health is important — very important — and should be prioritized as highly as wearing a hard hat.
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
- End-of-season layoffs
- Separation from family
All of the above, and more, are proven to challenge mental stability. Their effects on an individual’s well-being are only compounded within a work culture which valorizes “toughness.”
The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention reports that many within the industry suffer in silence due to cultural expectations. Despite advancements in education and awareness, mental health issues remain stigmatized in some circles, and suicide is a taboo topic on the jobsite.
As such, many workers feel forced to “deal with it,” not seeking out the help they need, and symptoms get worse.
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. While some within the industry struggle to keep up with an evolving narrative about mental health, empowering workers to seek out resources is a crucial part of every manager’s job description.
What you can do to help
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. Construction Financial Management has compiled a list of suicide prevention partners specifically designed to serve construction workers.
The other important element is awareness — if you’re in a leadership role you can’t help someone if you don’t know they’re suffering. You simply don’t know what you don’t know. This further punctuates the need for full disclosure.
Encourage workers to share mental health issues during new employee orientation. This insight — and other critical medical records such as preexisting conditions and contact information — can easily be stored and accessed through a labor management application. While some employees might be reluctant to share this information, if you foster a safe, understanding culture on and off the jobsite, workers will be more likely to open up.
Whether you’re a safety manager, developer, or a cement mixer — no matter what your job is — it is everyone’s responsibility on-site to keep each other safe. Not just from external threats, but internal ones, too.