In an industry plagued by mental health crises, labor unions can help construction workers find help — and hope

 

Construction workers build our homes, offices, roads and bridges. They work long hours, sometimes in the dead of night and hundreds of miles from home. They’re the backbone of our infrastructure and mobility, supporting the functioning of society. But who supports construction workers when they’re in crisis?

A recent report published by Willis Towers Watson revealed that nearly 60% of construction workers in the U.S. suffer from a mental health issue during their career. Consider that construction workers are nearly seven times more likely to die of opioid overdoses on the job than the general population — and are four times more likely to commit suicide than workers in other professions. Overall, construction ranks second highest in suicide rates in major industries.

Clearly something’s amiss, but labor unions can step in to mitigate the persistent mental health challenges in the industry.

Mental health in construction: A snapshot

Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are not uncommon on construction sites. According to WTW, three in five construction employees report that their anxiety or depression is going untreated.

Multiple factors likely contribute to higher suicide rates and mental health problems in construction, including:

  • The construction industry is dominated by men, and men experience higher suicide rates than women
  • Experiencing mental health conditions and seeking help for these issues is taboo and may be seen as a sign of personal weakness — especially in an industry in which physical strength is valued
  • Prevalence of chronic pain resulting from workplace injuries
  • High-stress work environments
  • Long work hours, including the potential for a large volume of overtime, which leads to fatigue
  • Separation from families when working away from home

What do construction professionals need to turn this narrative on its head?

How employers and unions can support construction workers

Employers should take the first active steps in fortifying construction workers’ mental health. It needs to come from the top: Leaders must actively cultivate a culture that addresses workers’ well-being, including implementing mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs. Organizations must also make Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) readily available to workers who need support.

Unions play a role in mental health advocacy, too.

To start, unions give a voice to workers who are dissatisfied with working conditions, particularly when it comes to safety and well-being. Construction is dangerous, and employees who are constantly under stress from working in hazardous conditions run the risk of developing mental health issues. Unions ensure that employers follow health and safety regulations and that workers are taken care of.

Labor unions can also connect construction workers to vital mental health services. They should collaborate with employers to ensure access to EAPs and counseling services. Members should also advocate for mental health benefits and services in union contracts, including extra measures to protect the privacy of those who seek treatment. Many mental health issues go unreported because of fear of retaliation or negative job outcomes from employers.

Unions can also:

  • Advocate for job security measures, such as contract protections and employment stability, to reduce financial stress
  • Launch campaigns to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues in the construction industry
  • Offer workshops or resources on coping, managing stress, and building resilience
  • Train peer support volunteers to recognize signs of mental health issues and provide appropriate assistance
  • Support workers during layoffs and job transitions to minimize the impact on their mental health

Third-party administrators: Here for labor unions

Establishing access to health resources is no easy task, but with the help of a trusted TPA, labor unions can ensure their members receive the help they need, when they need it.

Expert TPAs like MagnaCare can help unions establish and maintain a network of experienced mental health providers like therapists, counselors and psychiatrists. Our team will advocate for improved coverage and access to services on behalf of unions, especially to ensure members have access to mental health services quickly in times of crisis. Plus, we’ll provide data analytics and reporting on mental health utilization and outcomes.

Get in touch to speak with a MagnaCare representative today. Construction deserves better. Let’s build up the folks who work hard to build up our society.