How construction companies can incorporate mental health into workplace H&S policy
Joseph Castillo, practice lead, construction safety, at BSI, says that mental health has been an issue for the construction sector long before the effects of the pandemic became apparent.
“According to the most recent CDC data, in the US, men working in construction have a rate of suicide about four times higher than the general population – one of the highest rates of any industry,” says Castillo.
In the construction industry, mental health can be affected by a range of factors, such as challenging working hours, drug and alcohol abuse, labour shortages that have continued long after pandemic restrictions were lifted, and a male-dominated culture, where discussion about mental health issues can be challenging, according to Castillo.
“The pandemic has really opened up discussions around the once-taboo topic of mental health, especially in the field of construction,” says Castillo.
“An occupational health and safety management system that manages not only physical considerations, but also psychological health such as mental and cognitive risks can help organisations ensure people feel supported,” he says.
While the physical health risks in construction are well documented, such as falls, crush injuries and electrocution, mental health strategies for workers are equally important, Castillo explains.
“While there are no quick resolutions, there are tangible strategic steps that safety leaders can take,” says Castillo. “Most major organisations have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that can help workers. To ensure these are accessed by those who need them, strategies such as awareness campaigns or revamped promotional tactics may be beneficial.”
Other strategies that Castillo says can be utilised by multiple industries include incorporating mental health into company-wide talks, sharing industry-specific statistics when discussing risks, and ensuring employees are aware of common warning signs.
For smaller companies where EAPs may be impractical or expensive, Castillo says these businesses can support staff “by establishing clear organisational roles, surveying employees on their concerns or offering greater flexibility in shift hours and break times.”
Castillo outlines a series of questions that all organisations, regardless of size or industry, can ask themselves when developing mental health strategies: “Some of those questions include, how will we clearly define our mental health and well-being strategy and deliver it consistently across our organisation? How will we focus on actual organisational psychosocial risk management, as opposed to individual resilience initiatives? How will we achieve effective communication and engagement across our organisation? How will we manage the residual mental health impact of Covid-19 and implement measures to cope with the pandemic, particularly in relation to individuals working from home? And how will we measure the effectiveness of our strategies to promote mental health and well-being?”
“Focus around mental health awareness and development of support initiatives are the key areas that should be considered in the revamping of existing health and safety programs or the development of new processes,” Castillo says. “I would always recommend beginning with a basic program and simple, measurable and attainable goals [and] focus on achieving those goals, monitoring progress and evaluating outcomes – this should ultimately lend itself to a higher level of achievement.”
Courtesy of Georgia Lewis
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