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It’s easy to understand why construction workers have stressful jobs. They’re working on tight timelines, often on projects that need to be structurally sound so that people can live and work in their buildings.
This responsibility can be taxing on workers’ mental health. A 2020 study found that 83% of construction workers had experienced a moderate to severe mental health issue. Construction workers, who often think of themselves as tough, are unlikely to share this information with the people around them — even though many of their coworkers are struggling with the same issues.
“They’re these hard hats — working individuals that don’t always feel comfortable talking about things they are struggling with in the way they may want to,” said Megan Embler, MS, ATC, LAT, an on-site athletic trainer with Concentra.
“We are all here because we all have to work,” continued Embler. “If we didn’t, we would be somewhere else. Whether we are having a bad day, bad week, you still have to come to work today. You still need to provide for yourself and your family.”
If left unaddressed, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can cause safety issues in the workplace. A construction worker experiencing mental health issues may be distracted and not as careful as they need to be on a jobsite, leading to physical injuries.
To help combat mental health challenges, some firms are working with on-site athletic trainers and health and wellness personnel trained in mindfulness practices. These tools — which encourage workers to focus and be aware of their emotional state and their surroundings — can help reduce depression, anxiety and musculoskeletal injuries.
During National Construction Safety Week, observed May 1 to 5, construction leadership might want to consider how they can use mindfulness to help create a safer workplace.
Mindful working occurs when an individual is attentive to their task and the factors around them. From a mental health standpoint, that might mean being in tune with one’s emotions and considering how they affect one’s ability to work safely.
“When we really look at mindful working, it means working in a state in which the individual has that acute awareness of the situation and the environment they’re in and involves being focused and concentrating on the task that they’re engaged in,” Embler said.
On a construction site, that might translate into situational awareness, such as one worker paying attention to how a coworker operating a jackhammer nearby may affect their ability to focus on pouring concrete or cutting lumber for a wood-frame building. “They might think, let me take a step back. Let me put on my correct glove. Let me get on a workstation and let me cut this the right way,” Embler said.
Embler says that in addition to being helpful in preventing anxiety and depression, mindfulness has been linked to preventing musculoskeletal injuries. Workers who are focused on their tasks are more likely to make sure that they are lifting using proper ergonomics.
“It’s been found to be useful in the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries and improvement in mental health areas, specifically stress reduction management. We’ve found that it can also have a positive effect on depression and anxiety, which is rather high in the construction industry,” Embler said.
While mindfulness can improve construction workers’ mental health and prevent many accidents from occurring, many are reluctant to share their mental health challenges or are hesitant to participate in mindfulness exercises.
“There’s this big stigma around it,” Embler said. “I have found that a high percentage of these workers do not communicate with their employers that there’s something wrong.”
Human resources, project management and senior leadership staff are critical in breaking down these stigmas. These teams can distribute educational materials about working mindfully, conduct training and do walkthroughs to encourage workers to engage in mindful behavior. They can teach workers to identify hazards on the jobsite and what they need to do to get a situation under control.
Some workers may be slow to open up at first, but as a company continues to prioritize mindfulness, more people will share their experiences. In some cases, Embler has found that working in small groups is the best way to encourage construction workers to open up and engage in mindfulness exercises.
“We have found that we’ll break into smaller groups; sometimes, they don’t want to talk in big groups,” Embler said.
During walkthroughs, leadership teams can emphasize these practices by engaging with workers, both to praise them when they’re working mindfully and to correct any dangerous behaviors they might notice. Walkthroughs also offer an opportunity to connect with staff members and break down some of the stigmas around talking about mental health in the workplace.
“When I walk around the jobsite, I try to really engage with each person,” Embler said.
If employers and HR professionals clearly communicate to their workers the importance of engaging in mindfulness on construction jobsites, workers will actively listen and carry out those actions, making workplaces safer and improving mental health.
In her role as an athletic trainer with Concentra, Embler has provided support to construction clients looking to implement mindful work practices on their job sites.
She typically joins her Safety Department by engaging with an entire crew at a time, during what is known in the industry as a “stand down.” Work on a construction site stops, and the team talks about plans for future work or any issues on site. Embler says these moments provide excellent mental health and mindfulness education opportunities since they integrate the lessons with a regularly scheduled part of the workers’ day.
“We can talk about this topic and express it to your employees, and they can teach each other to identify these hazards,” Embler said.
Since athletic trainers work with physical as well as mental health, their presence can help construction workers understand that taking care of their minds is just as important for their safety as taking care of their bodies — a critical gap to bridge if construction firms want to reduce mental health stigma on their jobsites.
“When everyone is engaged and on the same page, they really are just working together to decrease those risks,” Embler said. “It’s letting them know that you are there, they have support. It’s okay to talk about it.”
To learn more, visit: https://www.concentra.com/
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Concentra. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.