Addressing Substance Abuse & Mental Health in Construction

The following content is sponsored by Trimble. 

The construction industry is one of the largest in the U.S., employing more than 7.6 million people. It’s also one of the most labor-intensive and dangerous industries in the world. Construction workers make up 4.7% of the country’s labor force but suffer more than 20% of workplace fatalities. And around 1.1% of all construction workers will suffer an injury severe enough that it causes them to miss work. Long hours, hard work, and increased odds for injury can all contribute to two other challenges the construction industry is working hard to address — substance abuse and mental health.

The construction industry has one of the highest rates of substance abuse and alcoholism in the U.S. and the highest rate of suicide in any industry.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and September 5-9 was the construction industry’s Suicide Prevention Week this year. How are companies and industry organizations working to tackle the problems of substance abuse and suicide?

By the Numbers

 Statistics on drug abuse in the construction industry can be alarming. The sector ranks:

Opioid use and abuse has been an especially challenging problem in construction. High injury rates mean workers are often prescribed opioids for pain relief. Research shows that around 15% of individuals taking these drugs become long-term users, increasing their chances of developing an addiction by more than 10 times.

A 2020 study noted that 83% of construction workers experienced a mental health issue, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that men working in construction have one of the highest suicide rates as compared to all other industries. The rate of suicide in construction is about four times higher than the general population.

Addressing the Issue

Tools are available to help employers address the issues of substance abuse and suicide in the construction industry. Drug testing can help employers identify substance abuse in the workplace. It gets a bit tricker, of course, in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, but identifying substance abuse cases can help prevent future problems. Counseling and treatment programs can help encourage recovery and thwart future addiction.

It’s also important to remember that mental health care is health care. There is no shame in reaching out for help, and employees need to know they have the option to do so. 

Everyone in the construction organization — from coworkers to management — should be empowered to reach out to their peers to make sure they’re okay, and then listen to their answer without judgment. If someone needs help, encourage them to contact HR or a mental health professional. Or, if they are in immediate crisis, have them call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Stay in touch until they can get the help they need.

A United Effort

Through individual company efforts and industry-wide groups and associations, the construction industry has significantly stepped up its efforts to overcome drug and mental health challenges by providing a host of resources:

There is always more that can be done, however, and taking forward-thinking new approaches and expanding on efforts that are working should be lauded. At the end of the day, the industry is only as good as its workforce, so taking care of the people should be a priority.

About the Author

Lawrence Smith

Lawrence is leading Trimble’s global Construction Management Solutions (CMS) division for the construction sector. He is responsible for bringing a unified business strategy around preconstruction, project and operations management, finance and human capital, and digital supply chain.

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