Originally published June 8, 2022 in Construction Executive.
By Paul Goren | Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Construction sites are inherently safety-sensitive work zones. While the main concern for site managers traditionally has been worker safety from a liability standpoint, the most forward-looking managers are expanding that scope as part of a pandemic-inspired focus on overall employee wellness across industries.
For construction leaders and contractors looking to create safe and productive work environments, there are three key factors of employee health and safety that must be addressed: physical health, mental health and environmental wellness.
PHYSICAL HEALTH: WORLD-CLASS ATHLETES
Year after year, physical health remains the top priority for contractors and construction leaders. That’s not surprising. Construction work requires a high level of skill, focus and strength/flexibility—just like professional sports does. Indeed, those working in construction often are doing tasks that require as much or more physical strain than professional athletes, and they should have the same level of both physical and mental preparation.
Having a medical team dedicated to preventive care can be a game changer in limiting on-the-job injuries. Onsite providers can look at each project phase and task every day to help workers physically prepare with tailored stretches and exercises.
One way you can counteract these trends is through non-descriptive assessments. A medical provider can come onsite with a water/wellness cart and create a casual space to check in with workers about what’s hurting them and provide advice and health tips over water-cooler talk. This is a great way for medical providers to build relationships with workers while encouraging them to treat pain as it comes rather than waiting for a serious injury to strike, which will be more costly for everyone involved.
MENTAL HEALTH: REDUCING THE STIGMA
Mental health remains a pervasive issue in construction and should be a top priority for all contractors and construction leaders. Most alarmingly, there were 5,242 incidents of suicide among construction workers in 2018—45.3 per 100,000 compared to an average male suicide rate of 27.4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is by far the highest rate of any other occupation or industry.
As all industries continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, including high rates of employee burnout, mental health can no longer be ignored or addressed through a “check-the-box” approach. If workers are experiencing mental-health challenges, it could hinder their performance and attention to detail. In a high-risk setting like construction, there’s plenty that can go wrong when someone isn’t focused or mentally healthy enough to perform a job at a safe level; workers who are struggling with their mental health can put not only themselves but also their coworkers and clients in harm’s way.
Reducing the stigma around mental health on construction sites is a crucial first step. Building a pro-mental-health culture begins with simply talking more about mental health onsite with workers and providing access to resources such as online mental-health providers that allow them to seek help on their own terms. You can easily implement recurring mind, body and safety chats, introduce wellness events or host lunch-and-learns with experts who can start an open dialogue around mental health.
ENVIRONMENTAL WELLNESS: THE WHOLE PICTURE
Just as mental health is increasingly important, environmental wellness is gaining popularity in construction. Creating a culture of wellbeing isn’t limited to providing access to mental-health resources; it also includes providing innovative services that bring convenience for workers and make them feel valued by their employer.
As defined by the National Institutes of Health, environmental wellness is about creating clean, safe and healthy surroundings. But cleanliness and nicer amenities are just the baselines. Take environmental wellness further by providing innovative services for workers on the jobsite, such as stretching stations to help prevent on-the-job injuries and water stations to promote hydration. Aside from project-related initiatives, you also can introduce lifestyle services like onsite haircuts, food trucks and smoothie stations.
Companies that promote environmental wellness are more likely to attract the best workers and keep them happy and motivated. For contractors and business leaders, this means that your projects will get done faster, there will be less risk of injury and you’ll see more proactive leadership from workers.