In addition, the construction industry has the second highest suicide rate among professions in the U.S. with 53 suicides per 100,000, more than four times the national average and growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These numbers may seem alarming, but considering the physical demand of the job, high-stress environment, seasonal lay-offs and, in many instances, the toll of being away from loved ones for an extended period while working on a project, they are not entirely surprising.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges for much of society, and the construction industry is no exception. It has driven many construction industry leaders to take a comprehensive look at employee health and the best ways to protect workers on and off the job.
The solution lies in active advocacy and care. A proactive approach is essential to protecting employees and ensuring the best possible outcomes when it comes to wellness and injury prevention. Below are some steps that construction executives can take to achieve this active advocacy and care, supporting their workers and ensuring projects are completed on time, safely and without incurring unnecessary extra costs.
1. TACKLE MENTAL HEALTH HEAD-ON
Mental health issues unfortunately still carry a stigma in many instances, especially among those it impact’s the most, middle-aged white men—the population that makes up the bulk of the construction industry. Reinforcing the importance of caring for your whole self, mental and physical, can help lessen the stigma and make workers more comfortable with proactively seeking care. This starts with making mental health care part of the daily conversation on the worksite.
Toolbox talks should go beyond how to hold a hammer and stay safe on scaffolding. Even asking simple questions like, “How are you doing?” as part of your daily check in can go a long way in establishing a work culture centered on care and concern.
Once this culture has been established, some sites may add a trained mental health professional to the medical team, providing resources and information around opioid misuse and making available lists of vetted mental health resources. Further, relying on the medical team to provide training to employees to help them recognize signs of poor mental health and normalize conversations around seeking help can foster a healthier workplace and reduce the risk of suicide.
To help reduce feelings of isolation while reinforcing safety measures like physical distancing during COVID-19 encourage employees to remain connected to keep their social support system intact at work. Consider using terms like “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” Ask supervisors and site leaders to speak out on how they are tackling the challenges of the pandemic to help set the tone for the rest of the workforce. These simple steps can help workers recognize any issues they might be facing and reduce any barriers to care, should they seek treatment.
2. TAKE A BROAD APPROACH TO INJURY PREVENTION
Preventing injury and promoting positive physical health practices are the most important factors when it comes to creating a safe workplace. Beyond just monitoring workspaces and removing any hazardous situations, a proper injury prevention approach should include wellness initiatives such as pre- and post-shift stretching, ergonomics, weight management, smoking cessation programs and tailored action plans to reduce risk of injury. Reinforcing these behaviors, creating healthy patterns and opening up times during the day to allow room for proper care will help turn these positive behaviors into positive habits, and ultimately help reduce injuries.
In addition to a staff medical director, consider incorporating athletic trainers into teams. These professionals understand both the mechanics of the body and mind and the toll that physical work can take. They’re proactive and skilled at promoting safe behaviors and developing programs that improve physical capabilities and establish the mental edge and focus needed to improve performance.
3. ELEVATE TRIAGE AND INJURY CARE
Promptly and expertly treating any injuries that occur on the worksite will reduce long-term impacts and unnecessary costs related to workplace accidents. Taking time to properly diagnose the injury and then connecting the worker to the appropriate course of treatment will help reduce reinjury and better the chances for proper healing with reduced long-term impact from injury. Having a designated medical director with deep knowledge of treatment best practices will aid in both triaging injury care and support decision making for directing injured patients to the best specialists available.
4. TAKE A TACTICAL APPROACH TO RECORDKEEPING
There is power in the lessons that come from data. Recordkeeping is not just an OSHA requirement – it is a meaningful analytics and learning tool. Detailed, real-time documentation, treatment plans and return-to-work protocols that incorporate care and concern can be a vital tool in aligning better health outcomes with better business outcomes.
Further, proper recordkeeping allows for management and occupational health professionals to assess data, learn from the past, and, based on findings, create new processes and ways of working that create better outcomes. These steps can go a long way in reducing costs associated with workplace accidents by ensuring proper treatment is administered and documented and that workers are cleared before safely returning to work.
5. BECOME AN EMPLOYER OF CHOICE
The chief benefit of active advocacy and care on construction worksites is protecting the health and wellness of workers. A worksite that is aligned on health and wellness will see additional benefits. Putting in place programs that care for the whole worker and promote mental and physical wellness can lead to a more productive and engaged workforce, where safety and interdependence are top priority. Safe and healthy worksites have fewer project delays. Further, offering wellness programs and worker health initiatives are a recruiting advantage when looking for highly skilled employees in a competitive labor market. These benefits are a differentiator in the employment marketplace and can position a company as an employer of choice, paving the way for the most qualified talent available. For employers, a proper health program can lead to a 70% reduction in workers compensation claims costs through achieving better health outcomes for employees.
The bottom line is that healthier, safer workplaces benefit everyone. Addressing physical and mental health care has become imperative on construction sites that want to remain competitive. There is no doubt that properly executing these programs requires time and expertise. There are established onsite medical experts who are experienced in building effective programs. Look for an onsite medical company that takes a holistic and custom approach to wellness and has a proven track record of success in establishing health, wellness and safety on construction sites.