As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month and kick off Construction Safety Week in North America, it's critical to start conversations that can destigmatize mental health struggles, raise awareness and connect people with support and resources. Construction work is both physically and mentally demanding. The physical, mental, and emotional health of every worker impacts their ability to be present and focused on their work.
According to the CDC’s Report on Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation, construction has the third-highest rate of suicide at 45.3 per 100,000 workers. Rather than shying away from this growing industry concern, we must first acknowledge there is a problem. While many consider there to still be a stigma around the topic of mental health on the jobsite, one of the best things we can do to improve construction workers’ mental health is to actively integrate it into existing safety programs.
Leaders play a key role in fostering and building a caring culture that addresses worker well-being, mental health awareness, and suicide prevention in construction. To dive deeper, we heard from three safety professionals who are breaking down barriers to address mental health.
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc
With a reputation for tackling the most complex construction challenges, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. combines a focus on innovation with expertise as a hands-on builder to deliver certainty for clients. At McCarthy, mental health has always been a standard topic of conversation for its safety division. However, when the pandemic surfaced, McCarthy began to recognize the ways in which mental health impacts other aspects of life outside of the jobsite.
“We recognized this need right away and our company has since done a tremendous job of pulling together resources,” said Rob Graham, CSP, CIH, vice president - national corporate safety at McCarthy. “We now have a mental health support program available to all employees, salary and craft employees alike.” Beyond implementing a mental health assistance program, McCarthy ensures its mental health resources and training are constantly communicated and reiterated to employees through new hire orientations, webinars, and on the jobsite and in the office.
Recently, McCarthy began to hand out poker chips that feature a 24/7 support line employees can call if they are struggling and need support. “We know the chips are being used, we can track how many calls have been made. Our jobsites are constantly asking us for more poker chips,” says Graham.
When it comes to destigmatizing mental health, McCarthy frequently teams up with its insurance companies and other general contractors to share best practices and boost industry support. With the combined commitment from executive leaders and employees, McCarthy plans to continue exploring new and innovative ways to improve its safety program and raise the bar.
Mono Constructions Pty Ltd
Mono Constructions is an Australian-owned, family-oriented construction company founded in 2002. The company prides itself on developing and delivering innovative and sustainable solutions in the property and construction industry.
Mono’s culture is founded on respect and kindness, and the company makes a continuous effort to regularly communicate safety information to employees through individual formal and informal conversations, team meetings, emails, and newsletters. The company also trains its teams on leadership skills, managing conflict, managing team dynamics, and how to look out for each other.
During COVID, Mono saw great success by staying connected online and extending its mental health assistance program to employees’ family and household members. In the early months of the pandemic, Mono began to focus on the well-being of the entire household, not just those showing up to work at the office or in the field. “Our executive team ultimately made the decision to expand Mono’s mental health program to employees’ household members,” said Frances Khattar, HR/HSE manager at Mono. “At the end of the day it all starts at the top, and our executives were willing to invest the time and resources to show employees that we care about their mental health.”
Mono also instituted other employee wellness initiatives. The “Hour of Power '' is an hour-long event where a health professional, such as a psychologist or nutrition coach, comes to teach Mono employees tactics for nourishing their bodies and minds. A step challenge also encouraged employees to keep physically active and socially connected.
NRP Group is a developer-builder-manager known for innovation in the multifamily segment and for building market rate, affordable, and mixed-income housing that combines high quality with intentional design.
Over the past couple years, NRP Group has made significant progress with regard to its mental health assistance program for employees. “During COVID, we had guys that were scared to come to work because of issues they were having at home,” said Ryan Berkhouse, vice president of construction safety at NRP Group. Whether employees were apprehensive because they had someone who was immunocompromised or because of other personal matters, NRP Group assured employees they were supported. Along with that messaging, Berkhouse and Taylor Brown, the president of NRP Construction, conducted a live webinar to let employees ask questions and try to ease their concerns.
In recent days, COVID has become less worrisome for some employees, but fatigue and burnout remain a top concern. However, NRP Group is committed to providing mental health resources for employees in all 18 offices across the United States.
NRP Group has also been working to reverse the negative perceptions often associated with the construction industry. “Everyone knows the old adage of the crusty construction worker, you can imagine the kind of inappropriate language or tone people think construction workers use,” said Berkhouse. Through introducing a soft skill training into the field, the company strives to promote a respectful and healthy workplace culture. The training, called Elevate U, teaches NRP Group’s up-and-coming managers how to talk to others on the jobsite respectfully and to ask questions instead of giving orders.
The common theme amongst these three different organizations is leadership’s focus to evolve and deliver effective safety programs. It's now more important than ever that safety programs bridge the gap that can sometimes be felt between leadership in the office and individual laborers in the field. Each of these leaders have taken a unique and impactful approach to leverage technology and educational content to elevate programming and ultimately place the experience of the individual in the field front and center. Through initiating open lines of communication, these companies are all effectively working to build a lasting foundation of trust and support.
Tune In for More
If you would like to learn more about how to make your workplace a safe space for talking about and working through mental health, consider watching our safety webinar, How Industry Leaders are Shaping the Future of Safety Through Culture.
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)