While the construction industry continues making significant progress in enhancing physical safety by implementing innovative technologies, the focus on workers' psychological well-being has only emerged as a priority in the past two decades. To better address the needs of all workers in the field, construction companies have started investing in comprehensive safety programs that reduce stigmas associated with mental health while promoting a greater sense of belonging.
In a recent Procore Foundations for Progress webinar, industry experts discussed how safety programs are evolving, shared emerging research on proper fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and identified practical tools for incorporating mental health awareness into a construction safety program.
Procore welcomed an esteemed panel of speakers to discuss important themes around intersectionality and advocacy including Stacee Barkley, global diversity, equity, and inclusion leader for DPR Construction; Abby Ferri, CSP, chief risk officer for Insurate and host of Procore’s newest PSQ course; and Cal Beyer, vice president of workforce risk and worker wellbeing for Holmes Murphy.
The Need for Inclusive PPE
In a study conducted by the OSHA, of approximately 770 workers who suffered a face injury on the jobsite in 2005, 1% were wearing proper face protection. However as of 2022, only 31% percent of construction laborers report using PPE. These disparate findings highlight the correlation between wearing proper PPE and reducing risk while underscoring the urgent need for greater PPE adoption across the construction industry.
Recently, there has been an increasing recognition to provide more inclusive PPE, ensuring the safety of all workers, regardless of their gender, size or physical abilities. The current reliance on a one-size-fits-all solution for PPE is unsustainable, making it imperative to provide properly fitting equipment for all workers.
“When an employer provides options with PPE, that shows a level of care and understanding,” said Ferri. “They’re recognizing there are people on the jobsite with different body sizes and types and they’re committing to provide PPE that reflects that.”
Inclusive PPE enhances the physical safety around a jobsite and it also fosters a more integrated community amongst workers, promoting a work environment where everyone belongs.
Investing In Belonging and DIEB Initiatives
As the construction industry continues to evolve, we have the opportunity to help inspire meaningful dialogue and drive sustainable change around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). In 2021, several industry leaders joined forces to establish Construction Inclusion Week, an initiative dedicated to cultivating a culture where everyone in the construction industry feels they belong.
Throughout the annual event, participating construction firms dedicate time to gather and exchange resources related to building inclusion and construction. As one of the founding members, Barkley and DPR Construction play a paramount role in shaping Construction Inclusion Week.
“It's an opportunity to build additional education and awareness, but the idea is that these are conversations that happen 365 days out of the year, not just the one week,” said Barkley. “We want to give people the tools and resources, equipping them to better show up for themselves and for others.”
Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment encourages individuals to freely share ideas without fear of negative consequences. When workers feel valued and cared for by those around them, they’re empowered to express their true selves and perform at their best.
“Psychological safety in the workplace involves being able to talk about the bad, difficult and challenging things without fear of retribution,” said Ferri. “It’s about making it okay to talk about what’s really going on early and often in order to start solving those problems.”
Mental Health is the Next Frontier of Construction Safety
Within the construction industry, many still consider workplace mental health and suicide prevention taboo topics of conversation. This stigma acts as an invisible barrier, isolating individuals, fostering loneliness and preventing meaningful connections.
The stark difference in suicide rates between the general population and the construction industry is confounding. In the United States, men working in construction experience a rate of suicide four times higher than the general population. In fact, the CDC found the suicide rate for men in construction was five times greater than the rate of all other work-related fatalities in the industry.
For Beyer, peer support represents a crucial turning point in addressing mental health within the workplace. It emphasizes the importance of leaders, companies and workers taking personal action to embrace and accept their coworkers as they are. The expansion of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and digital peer support specialists are valuable steps towards upholding mental health.
“When workers share stories at divisional safety meetings, at annual kickoff meetings or with their crews, all of a sudden other people start to lean in,” said Beyer. “Empathy is created, psychological safety is spawned and it's powerful.”
To watch the full Foundations for Progress webinar, click here.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please check out the following free resources:
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line (text “HEAL” to 741741)
- OSHA - Construction Industry - Preventing Suicides
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP)