It’s no secret that 2020 is one of the most stressful years on record, which makes it more important than ever for business owners to check in on the mental health of their crews. The construction and extraction trades – even before the COVID crisis – reports the second highest suicide rate, according to the CDC. An article for the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention stated: "More construction workers die by suicide each day than all other workplace-related fatalities combined." The same article noted a reported increase in mental health hotline calls by 30-40% during the COVID pandemic. Some of the reasons cited include stress induced by seasonal employment, chronic pain after years of physical labor, high pressure to finish projects on time, poor or difficult working conditions, and even working in high places which provides too much opportunity for a suicidal worker.
As a male-dominated industry, many men feel they have to “suck it up” and aren’t comfortable acknowledging, let alone discussing, mental health issues with their peers or bosses. Many men feel ashamed to ask for help with emotional issues, or assume they are “less of a man” for feeling them to begin with, but bottled up, this can end tragically.
As the business owner or foreperson, you have some tools available to provide a safe place for your workers to discuss their problems with you or someone at your organization and seek help. While most of their work is on site, if there is a space in your shop or office, or even an on-site trailer, put up some posters that provide information about how to get help, or warning signs workers can look for – physical, emotional, or behavioral – to help determine if they are suffering from mental health issues. Know the Signs provides resources in multiple languages on its website www.suicideispreventable.org.
Let your workers know you understand some situations – such as uncertain employment or certain working conditions – are stressful, this will allow them some legitimacy for their feelings rather than being told to “man up” and ignore. Remind them that you know they have to pay the rent and support their families, and be understanding of fear of failure to do so.
Be on the lookout for crew members who suddenly underperform or are moody, and check up to see how they are doing. Remember that safe protocols during this pandemic serve to isolate your crew even further, and make it harder for them to take advantage of the friendships and support they’ve developed on the job.
Sure, we want to get the job done on time and on budget, but not at the expense of someone’s life. Being proactive and understanding can make a big difference; you may not even know who needs help until you offer.