What Wellness Issues are Affecting Contractors?

What Wellness Issues are Affecting Contractors?

In a time when fewer workers are experiencing jobsite injuries due to a much greater emphasis on safety, there are still several unique construction wellness issues affecting the industry today. Some you’d expect, such as musculoskeletal problems caused by years of hard work on the job. Others are less apparent on the surface, such as mental health conditions. In any case, they’re all threatening to worker health and safety.

Although construction is an industry where it literally pays to be tough, it’s still just a job, and every American worker deserves a safe workplace. Understanding these conditions is key to addressing them, so let’s take a closer look at three wellness issues facing the construction industry that we don’t often hear much about.

 

Suicide

The construction industry has the second-highest suicide rate out of all other industry categories (farming, fishing, and forestry workers has the first), coming in at 53.3 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The reasons behind this truth are many. For starters, construction is a male-dominated field and suicide rates in general are higher for males on average.

Looking a little deeper though, we begin to see underlying factors that both compound the problem and prevent individuals in need from seeking help. One can’t “shake off” mental health in the same way they could overcome the pain of banging their knee on a jobsite. Yet, many affected individuals remain committed to the culture of toughness in the industry and never seek the appropriate care they actually need. The added layer of stigma only perpetuates this unfortunate truth even further.

Combine that with other common factors like unpredictable employment, chronic pain, time away from family, pressure to finish projects, substance abuse, alcoholism, and access to means of suicide (such as tall buildings) and you have a recipe for disaster.

The industry needs a shift in perception. Supervisors need to be trained to recognize the signs of mental fitness for duty in the same ways they would recognize physical ones. Also, the culture of stigma around mental health in construction needs to be dissolved to enable individuals to feel like they can reach out for the help they need. These might seem like lofty goals, but there’s no reason they can’t be incorporated into any construction firm’s safety practices.

 

Opioids

You’ve likely read or heard about the horrible ways in which opioids are ravaging communities around the country, but you might not be aware that its effect on the Midwestern construction industry has been described by experts as “devastating.” Earlier this year, a report was published by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute which found that opioids “killed nearly 1,000 Midwest construction workers at a cost of more than $5 billion to the region’s construction industry in 2015.”

Making matters much worse is the widespread reporting of the nationwide opioid crisis having grown considerably since the timeframe in which that study focused – meaning the number of deaths is likely to inflate.

“What makes construction so vulnerable to this epidemic is the physical nature of the work,” said report author Jill Manzo. “Injury rates are 77% higher in construction than other occupations, and the financial incentive to get back to work before their bodies are healed is leading many down a path that can ultimately lead to abuse and even death.”

According to the National Safety Council’s 2017 Survey on Drug Use and Substance Abuse:

  • 15% of construction workers struggle with substance abuse – nearly twice the national average.
  • Opioids account for about 20% of all total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry – far higher than its share in other industries.
  • And across the Midwest, 60% to 80% of all workers compensation claims have involved opioids.

Company owners should know they have several unique control measures they can put in place to curb this issue, including working closely with their employee healthcare providers to limit the number of opioids being distributed to employees. They should also make sure their insurance providers cover alternative pain therapies, mental health services, and addiction treatment. Beyond that, they should train supervisors to recognize the warning signs of substance abuse and help support employees overcome the disease of addiction.

 

Skin Conditions

Skin diseases are among the most prevalent occupational health threats facing workers in construction. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that occupational skin disorders are the second-most-common type of workplace illness, behind only back injuries.

Allergies and contact with irritating or harmful chemicals, such as the kinds encountered by thousands of construction workers every day, are typically the biggest culprits in construction-related skin diseases. And it’s easy to see why – many of the most common building materials contain chemicals that are bad for human skin. Examples include cement, wood glue, solvents, fiberglass, detergents, tar, formaldehyde, turpentine, and many more.

This is definitely one department in construction where it doesn’t pay to be tough and ignore personal protective gear. Chemical burns and contact dermatitis are nasty conditions, sometimes taking weeks to clear up completely. Supervisors and workers need to be fully aware of the hazards and ways they can mitigate the risks. If the offending substance cannot be removed from the jobsite, then appropriate protective gear needs to be worn.

 

Stay Safe

Now’s the best time for the industry to begin addressing these health issues and the numerous others that affect workers on construction jobsites. Overall, the industry is going a great job of reducing hazards and protecting employees, as a robust culture of safety has taken root. All that remains to be done is to build upon that success by broadening the parameters of safety programs.

Category Features, Well Being