Prioritizing Mental Health  in Construction
McCarthy Building Company’s approach to mental health challenges

Construction companies have a duty to establish a safe and healthy work environment for their team members, tradesmen and tradeswomen. This should be viewed as the most critical task on any jobsite. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant feeling of uncertainty across the industry, which contributed to significant emotional and mental health issues. Unfortunately, as an often-overlooked part of workplace safety, the construction industry faces numerous challenges when it comes to breaking the stigmas surrounding employee mental health. It’s time for the construction industry to take responsibility in addressing not only physical workplace safety but also psychological safety.

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the crucial need for mental health awareness and support for employees and their families struggling with mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), construction has among the highest suicide rates of any sector in the world — up to 3.5 times the U.S. national average — and ranks as the No. 1 industry for deaths by suicide. Attention to the construction industry and its workers’ mental health and well-being has never been more important.

The Need for Mental Health Policies

The construction industry faces many obstacles when it comes to addressing the mental health of its workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men account for the bulk of suicides (97%) and make up much of the construction industry’s workforce. Additionally, men face social pressures to suppress talking about how they are feeling in an industry known for tough guy stereotypes, with many workers suffering in silence or unwilling to seek treatment for mental health conditions.

 

Furthermore, jobsite conditions can contribute to mental health struggles. Long work hours on a project can cause both physical and mental fatigue, while frequent relocations and separation from friend and family for an extended period can cause a feeling of isolation, both of these factors can have a large negative impact on mental well-being. 

According to an online survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), construction risk management firm CSDZ and insurance brokerage Holmes Murphy, the top two reasons that workers avoid talking about mental health with co-workers were shame and stigma (78%) and judgement by peers (77%). By encouraging open conversation through the craft workforce, the pattern of negative stigmas tied to mental health begins to unravel and the workplace becomes a safer space. This conversation has to be drive from management down to every employee. 

Spotting Dangerous Behavior

The construction industry is vulnerable to mental health challenges among workers because of various factors ranging from financial and family pressures to workplace injuries, chronic pain, substance abuse and other circumstances that can harm an employee’s mental well-being and affect their ability to concentrate. There are several reasons that a mentally healthy worker is important for a construction jobsite, but the most important is the safety and well-being of the project team. A happy and healthy team leads to a more productive workforce.

Mental health concerns and increased levels of stress can negatively impact a person’s ability to perform physical tasks safely as cognitive performance is impaired, productivity levels decrease, and communication skills suffer. Potential distractions coupled with difficulty focusing increase risk for employees in an industry that already features dangerous work environments and the operation of heavy equipment.

Some of the key signs of mental distress are lethargy, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating and absenteeism — all of which hinder productivity and safety in some way. Workers and project teams may only briefly work together on several projects, and therefore it may be harder to identify gradual behavioral changes so that some of these warning signs go unnoticed. Project leaders should know the signs of mental distress and make looking for those signs a part of their routine supervision process. 

How McCarthy Does It

 

McCarthy’s Build for Life health and wellness program ensures that employees have the resources to care for themselves and their families today while building a foundation for a long and healthy future. As an extension to this program, McCarthy’s safety, human resources and operations teams have worked to establish collaborative strategies and practices that ensure there is more discussion around mental health awareness, acceptance and treatment options. 

One of the key elements of successfully prioritizing mental health is having materials and resources that offer valuable information. McCarthy’s integrated team developed new and updated materials, resources, and tools to emphasize and support mental health awareness on jobsites and in offices. Employees and families have access to these materials through the company’s intranet which also include toolbox talks on mental health, suicide prevention and signage to increase awareness.

One example of this is McCarthy’s Employee Assistance Program, which offers a hotline with counseling resources for employees. By bringing mental health awareness to the forefront and implementing these practices onto jobsites, it creates a safer environment and a brighter future for all. Whether McCarthy is distributing hard hat stickers to employees with important mental health resources or conducting meaningful discussion with all teams, the investment in mental health awareness, acceptance and treatment is essential. 

Mental health challenges are not exclusive to construction and sharing information and materials with companies across any industry benefits everyone. By keeping employee well-being and mental health at top of mind, businesses will be able to create safe work environments and offer resources to help those who are struggling.

Even something as simple as an open communication system can empower a fellow coworker to ask simple questions like, “Are you OK? Do you feel safe to be here?”

 

Mental health has always been part of McCarthy’s overall wellness strategy, but the pandemic and startling statistic of deaths by suicide in the construction industry underscored the need to make mental health awareness and acceptance a central focus, especially on jobsites. The goal is to create a proactive program that regularly evaluates the resources offered to ensure the needs of employees and their families are being met.