This is a two-part article. This article explores the scope and magnitude of the mental/behavioral health problem in construction, while the second part will focus on strategies and solutions to address these topics in your companies. Part two can be found here.
The Invisible Crisis in Construction refers to the challenges posed by mental health, substance misuse and overdose, and suicide risk that leaves many workers and their families suffering in silence. While this is a real threat to the construction workforce and our families, the construction industry faced these challenges before COVID-19. However, the pandemic has exacerbated these risks.
Terry Moore is the CFO for CFMA heavy/highway member Miller Brothers Const., Inc. in Archbold, OH, and worries about the effects of the pandemic on the workforce. “Finding qualified equipment operators is quickly becoming the most scarce resource we have.” Moore is also concerned that the “current economic and social environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional stress on those individuals, resulting in them experiencing increased mental health issues.”
Moore believes that “this situation has a direct impact on their performance, but more importantly their safety. For the success of our company and the industry in general, it is imperative we recognize this situation and do all that we can in assisting our employees in dealing with these issues.”
Specific Examples of the Invisible Crisis in Construction
The rising stress, family pressures, and financial strains are affecting the overall quality of life and wellbeing of workers and families. These rising risks affect the construction workplace and threaten worker productivity, safety, and quality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace fatalities in construction rose 6.3% in 2019 (the last year data is available) to 1,066 fatalities, the highest total since 2007.
Opioid & Overdoses
There are ample studies highlighting the increasing mental health stress during the pandemic. Likewise, weekly news reports lament the rising risk of substance abuse relapse and synthetic opioid (fentanyl) overdoses throughout the country. The American Medical Association (AMA) reported more than 40 states have reported an increase in opioid overdoses since the onset of the pandemic.
Many public health professionals fear this is just the start of what will come in the years following the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, the construction industry had the highest number of suicides and the highest suicide rate (45.3 per 100,000 workers). In fact, more construction workers died by suicide each day than by all other workplace-related fatalities combined, including OSHA's Fatal Four.
Matt McCloskey, Operations Controller for Allan Myers, Inc. in Worcester, PA, is the current President of CFMA’s Philadelphia Chapter. McCloskey’s chapter recently hosted a webinar titled Shining Light on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in Construction. McCloskey expressed surprise that “mental health and suicide statistics within the construction industry are extremely startling. The fact that more people who work in construction die every year from suicide than by accidents while at work is staggering.”
McCloskey offered an additional perspective on this invisible crisis in construction, believing the numbers “mean we have done a much better job as industry leaders creating a safe jobsite, but we have to do a better job of creating awareness around mental health and ensuring our workers have the resources that they need when they need them.”
Action Steps for Leaders
- Have you personally discussed these behavioral health safety topics both at work and at home with family members? Create new contact cards for your smart phone and share broadly within your workplace and among your family and friends
- Crisis Text Line: Text message HELP or CONNECT to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800/273-8255
2. Has your company signed the STAND-Up Pledge in support of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention? There are 7 unique pledges for different stakeholder groups in construction.
3. Watch the videos on the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s website and the videos listed in the resources and share them with your company’s leaders in operations, human resource, and safety. Encourage them to download and use the videos, posters, Toolbox Talks, and Integration Checklist to expand your company’s communication on these topics.
American Medical Association (AMA). February 2, 2021. Issue brief: Reports of increases in opioid and other drug-related overdose and other concerns during COVID pandemic.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). December 16, 2020. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2019.
Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. 2-minute video on opioids and suicide risk in construction.
Copyright © 2021 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in March 2021 Talking Heavy newsletter.