Over the last several years, safety has become a focus for many contractors. This includes obvious job site hazards, such as unprotected falls, struck-by objects, caught in-between, and electrical shocks, but it also includes unseen mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, which can be just as hazardous to worker safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate in construction, 53.2 suicides per 100,000 workers, is the highest of all industries. It is almost four times the national average of 17.3 per 100,000 and five times all other construction fatalities combined at 10.1 per 100,000.
There are several on-the-job events that may cause stress, anxiety, and depression in contractors. These stressors can include:
Mental health issues affect the industry broadly, and management is no exception. Contract-based projects can trigger stress and anxiety because of tight deadlines, limited budgets, and lack of job security.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its continued effects have compounded these matters and created additional stress. Studies have shown that 41 percent of U.S. adults are now describing symptoms of anxiety or depression-related disorders that can be attributed at least partially to the pandemic.
The industry's culture makes it difficult for construction workers to ask for help—even if they desperately need it. Often, construction workers do not want to show weakness and feel they must present themselves as tough, strong, and macho. Many are afraid to ask for help when it comes to a work-related task, let alone acknowledging mental health issues. It can be very uncomfortable for someone to express emotions and feelings, especially if there are suicidal thoughts.
Since prevention is always key when it comes to any safety matter, construction safety programs would do well to include mental health safety. A contractor can include mental health resources (e.g., local counselors and hotlines) in their safety manuals along with written indicators of when it may be wise to seek outside help. These indicators can also be reviewed in safety meetings, which might diffuse nervousness about such topics. Openly talking about daily pressures and showing appreciation of workers can help calm the fears of someone who might struggle.
Reducing the stigma around mental health by cultivating a supportive workplace environment, normalizing mental health issues, and providing the right tools and resources can help create a safer place for your workers.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there are many resources available to get help.