Safety Best Practice Training

The Mental Health and Suicide Epidemic in Construction: Why it’s Happening and How You Can Help

The suicide rate for those with a career in the construction industry is nearly 4 times higher than the national average. Read that again. If you work in the construction industry, you are four times more likely to die by suicide than someone who does not.

We all know construction is a hazardous job, yet construction workers are more likely to die by suicide than all the other job site hazards, combined. There are on average 3 construction-related fatalities per day, compared to 10-12 construction workers who die by suicide per day.

Yet, for some reason, mental health is not a standard part of the health and safety program of most construction companies.

Why is Mental Health and Suicide Such a Problem in Construction?

Men, in general, are at higher risk of suicide than women, and they dominate the industry. They also typically refrain from discussions surrounding their feelings with their peers, adding to the feelings of isolation. The industry also employs a lot of veterans, who are even more at risk than men in general.

However, there are many other industries dominated by men which do not have the same mental health statistics, so there has to be more to it than gender.

In the past, suicide has solely been linked to untreated (or mistreated) mental health issues. However, studies now show the workplace environment is a major contributing factor.

Employment is supposed to offer us a sense of purpose and provide us with social interaction and stability. On the other hand, negative or toxic work environments can lead to disconnection and despair.

Below is a list of factors that tend to lead to negative employee perceptions of their workplace:

  • Work that isn’t meaningful or rewarding (little exposure to the finished product or effect)
  • Work-family conflict (demands at work spill into family life, hours, pay levels, etc)
  • Low job control (lack of decision-making ability, lack of variety in job tasks)
  • Excessive pressure and expectations to work overtime
  • Prejudice and discrimination at work
  • Work-related sleep disruption (early and or late shifts)
  • Exposure to dangerous elements at work (jobs with a high risk of fatalities)
  • A culture of poor self-care and coping strategies (bottling feelings, drugs, alcohol)

Many of these factors are rampant within the construction industry, thereby leading to a higher rate of mental health issues and suicide. Regardless of the reasons why it is this way, it has to change. We need to take better care of our construction workers.

What Can Construction Employers do to Combat the Mental Health Epidemic?

There are two major ways that construction companies can proactively reduce the chances of mental health issues and suicide among their employees.

1. Fix Your Company Culture

Take a good hard, honest look at your company culture and ask yourself if the factors listed above are existent there. If they are, the first step is to eliminate them, or at least reduce them. These changes need to directly reflect the areas your company needs improvement with but here are some ideas to get your creativity flowing:

  • Email your staff with pictures of the final products they were a part of constructing, so they may feel a pride in their workmanship
  • If the days are too long, implement shifts or shorten the number of working days in a week (half get Monday’s off and half get Friday’s off)
  • Include your employees in decision-making opportunities, even if it’s not their field of expertise, ie, have a vote on the new company logo
  • Have conversations and provide coaching surrounding discrimination, work-life balance, healthy eating, coping strategies and more

2. Implement a Suicide Prevention Program

You should already have a formal health and safety program, now is the time to add a section on suicide prevention. Below is how to do that.

What is a Suicide Prevention Program?

The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention uses the acronym STAND to advocate for construction companies to address suicide prevention as a health and safety priority by:

Creating SAFE cultures

The first step is to understand mental health issues, recognize your company’s part in it and commit to making improvements by adding them to your health and safety program. A culture of safety as a priority is best achieved from the top level of management down and must include actions, not just empty promises.

Providing TRAINING to identify and help those at risk

Just the same as you have dedicated First Aid / CPR trained employees on your sites, so should you have employees formally trained in suicide intervention. Additionally, conduct company-wide training on typical warning signs and how to refer a coworker who you are concerned about.

Raising AWARENESS about the suicide crisis in construction

This should be conducted internally through individual check-ins, toolbox talks, and team meetings as well as externally through newsletters and social media. Ensure the families of your employees also receive this information so they can educate themselves and watch for signs as well.

NORMALIZING conversations around suicide and mental health

Talk about the importance of mental health, hang posters, make it normal and acceptable to ask for help, and to take a ‘mental health break’. Encourage other contractors, distributors, and trade associations to do the same.

Ultimately DECREASING the risks associated with suicide in construction

Provide access to mental health care through employee benefit packages, offer self-screening tools, and provide access to crisis support hotlines via phone and text.

How Harness is Committed to Help

At Harness, we have recognized that, as leaders in the construction health and safety industry, we have a responsibility to raise awareness of this issue. In response to that, we have committed to providing all contractors with FREE access to construction-specific toolbox talks focused on mental health and suicide prevention.

We have included these toolbox talks as a downloadable resource at the end of this article and have also added them to the selection of digital toolbox talks included in the free version of our safety app. Learn more about our FREE Plan or download the paper resources by clicking the button below.

Best In Class How to... Training

10 Topics to Cover When Training New Construction Workers

Prior to 2017, New York City was suffering through what some experts called “an epidemic of construction fatalities”. The city was experiencing a building boom. But construction workers in America’s largest city weren’t being properly trained and they were being injured and killed on the job in record numbers. In 2017 alone there were 12 fatalities on NYC construction sites. The vast majority due to falls. A staggering number jolted the city into action.

Later that year, New York City passed a new law (Local Law 196) that mandated a set number of safety training hours for EVERY person working on a construction site. The total number of required hours ranges from 30 for low-level trades workers to 60 for supervisors. There are several approved courses that workers are obligated to complete from a general OSHA 10 certificate to more in-depth fall protection training.

The motivation behind passing this law stems from the fact that properly trained workers are less likely to get injured or killed on the job and the statistics are proving that to be true. A study conducted on the impacts of Local Law 196 reports that injuries in 2018 were lower than those in 2017 and lower again in 2019, in relation to the increase in the number of active construction projects.

Lack of training isn’t just a problem in New York. All across America, young construction workers are being injured and dying on the job.

As CEO of Harness Software, I’ve seen first hand what top trade contractors across North America do to provide their workers with the training necessary to stay safe and be productive. We’ve provided our clients with effective tools to deliver the right training but more important than any training tool is the training content. And that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.

What to Include in a Construction Worker Orientation

The most important measure you can take to prevent workplace injuries is a detailed new hire orientation for each worker. The OSHA Alliance Program explains that a proper orientation should cover at a minimum:

1. Overview of Management Commitment to Safety and Employer/Employee Rights and Responsibilities:

  • Explain management’s commitment to safety and health and safety and health written policies
  • Describe the employer’s responsibilities (e.g., General Duty Clause of the OSH Act)
  • Explain the employee responsibilities/rights, the scope of work, and job expectations

2. Explanation and Review of the Company’s Safety and Health Program/Policies including:

  • Review the hazard communication program, including how to find Safety Data Sheets
  • Review the incident reporting and investigations program
  • Identify the company’s competent persons, when required, and their specific roles
  • Review the employee accountability policy
  • Review the drug and alcohol policy
  • Review the discrimination and anti-harassment policy
  • Review the workplace violence prevention policy
  • Review the property damage policy
  • Explain how employees can provide feedback to the company

3. Overview of Applicable Safety and Health Regulatory Requirements, including Employee Workplace Rights:

  • Provide an overview of OSHA requirements/right to file a complaint
  • Explain that employees have a right to a safe and healthful workplace, and to how to report unsafe workplace conditions (e.g., proper chain of command/protocol) and include a statement that there will be no retaliation for reporting them
  • Review applicable state, regional, and local municipality requirements, ordinances, codes, etc., pertaining to safety and health, as necessary by local management and/or the joint employer and worker safety and health committee (if applicable)

4. Explanation of Site-Specific Information:

  • Explain the identified safety and health hazards present, or anticipated hazards on the site (e.g. falls, electrical, confined space, hazardous materials)
  • Explain the unique hazards or special challenges specific to the employee’s specific job, or scope of work

5. Overview of Hazard Identification, Assessment, and Correction:

  • Review how to identify and correct hazards, including when employees have the training, knowledge, and skills to do so
  • Review the Job Hazard Analysis (JHAs)
  • Review identified hazard assessment tools (e.g., inspections, checklists, and reports)
  • Encourage participation in the joint employer and worker safety and health committee
  • Inform employees on how they will be informed of hazard abatements and corrections

6. Overview of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Explain the mandatory/required use of PPE (e.g., hard hat, gloves, goggles, safety vest)
  • Explain that PPE will be tasked according to the scope of work
  • Verify that training on specific PPE, including proper use of safety harnesses, was conducted in a manner/language the employee understands
  • Review the company’s respiratory protection, hearing protection, fall prevention, and other PPE programs, when appropriate

7. Overview of the Verification/Evaluation Process

  • Ensure the information provided has been clearly presented and understood in a language that employees understand (i.e., written, oral, or work practice evaluation)

8. Overview of Reporting Protocols

  • Explain how to report incidents, such as near misses, and include a statement that there will be no retaliation for reporting them
  • Explain that accurate reporting of incidents will be emphasized to continuously improve worker safety and the company’s safety and health program
  • Explain how employees will be provided the results and follow-up actions of incident investigations

9. Explanation of Employee Participation

  • Explain that employees should participate in the safety and health program and how this participation will benefit them and their fellow employees
  • Ensure that front line employees will be included in the safety and health committee (when applicable)
  • Explain that the safety and health orientation will be interactive and encourage employee participation (e.g. worker voice)
  • Ensure that employees have sufficient time for questions and answers
  • Ensure that employees will be given additional training as needed for safely fulfilling their duties

10. Overview of Emergency Procedures:

  • Explain the emergency procedures (medical, spill, fire, evacuation, etc.), including the location of first-aid supplies, fire extinguishers, rally points, etc.
  • Identify where emergency contact numbers may be accessed

How To Make A New Worker Orientation Effective

If your eyes glazed over while you read that list of included topics, you’re not alone. It’s a ton of information to cover. The problem is, if the information isn’t delivered effectively, the new hire is likely to miss some important information that could potentially save their life.

Even worse, they could tune out altogether and the opportunity to foster your company’s commitment to safety will be lost. You can avoid both situations by ensuring your content is delivered in a way that keeps the new worker focused and engaged.

Some ideas to help better the delivery of your safety program include:

  • Varying your delivery techniques (instructor-led, self-directed reading, discussion-based)
  • Using teaching aids (videos, images, graphs, brochure takeaways, etc)
  • Making it hands-on (demonstrations, practical opportunities, and quizzes)

We do a deeper dive into the specifics of these suggestions in our article 5 Ways to Make Safety More Engaging for Construction Workers.

How to Document When Orientations Are Completed

The last but not the least important step is to document the Onboarding Session as complete. In the eyes of all the governing bodies, if it wasn’t documented, as far as they are concerned, it didn’t happen.

Some companies opt to record the training in a spreadsheet, others hand out actual paper certificates. The strongest record though is a digital one. We recommend using technology such as a safety management system to record and track all training certifications for all your employees. To read more and even watch a demo about how Harness helps companies track training, click here.

Leadership & Culture Training

Fall Protection Toolbox Talk Topics: A Complete List

OSHA statistics show an average of around five thousand U.S based work fatalities per year. To put that in perspective, that’s about 100 deaths per week, or 15 a day.

That means, approximately every hour and a half, some company out there has to call their employees’ family and explain that their loved one won’t be coming home from work that day. That is a call you never want to have to make and you definitely don’t want to receive.

OSHA also reports, the number one cause of these construction fatalities, year after year, after year, is falls. The good news is, you and your employees don’t have to be a part of those statistics.

How to Avoid Falls at Your Construction Company

First, you need to be aware that there are two categories that falls fall into. See what I did there?

1. Falls on the Same Level

These are most commonly referred to as slips and trips, which result in a fall to the ground. It could also be as simple as an employee stepping awkwardly out of their truck and falling to the ground.

Falls in this category, while potentially disabling, are not considered serious as they are not usually life-threatening.

2. Falls to a Lower Level

This category involves the more serious and more often fatal falls. It includes falling at any height to the ground or a level below where the employee originated from. This could be from a roof, scaffolding, down a stairwell, off a ladder and more.

The suggestions in the remainder of this article focus on protecting your employees from this category of falls as they are the types more likely to result in death. If your current concern is about slips and trips, your focus should be on general site housekeeping.

Specific Topics to Focus Your Fall Safety Training On

We all know that holding regular safety meetings, called Toolbox Talks, is the basis of a good safety program.

The problem for many contractors arises when you find yourself at a loss for relatable, useful topics to cover.

Below, we have sourced out some fall prevention subcategories and the topics you should focus on within them.

1. Ladder Safety

When it comes to falls, falling off a ladder tops the list as the most common. Your three areas of focus should be:

  • Proper setup of an extension ladder
  • 3 Point Contact
  • Stepladders

2. Scaffolding

Anyone assigned to set up scaffolding should have proper formal training in doing so as one mistake on their part could cost their co-workers their life. However, anyone using scaffolding should have at least a basic understanding of the following:

  • Set up of structural components
  • Set up of planks and decks
  • Fabricated Frame Scaffolds

3. Suspended Access Equipment

This subcategory includes all equipment that provides an elevated work platform, such as aerial lifts. Anyone using such equipment should have proper formal training, but a toolbox talk refresher is always a good idea:

  • Calculating counterweight
  • Tiebacks
  • Personal Fall Protection

4. Fall Protection

Some trades are at a higher risk of fall fatalities simply based on the tasks they perform and the frequency at which they are exposed to fall hazards. These trades need to put additional emphasis on fall protection through formal training. However, Toolbox Talk refreshers are also a must. Here are the topics you should be covering:

  • Basic types
  • Guardrails
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems
  • Rope Grabs
  • Warning Line Systems
  • Safety Monitoring Systems
  • Approvals and Inspections

5. Other Causes of Falls

It is incredibly rare for any construction worker in any trade, not to be exposed to a fall from heights at some point throughout their day. We strongly recommend training everyone in at least the basics:

  • Skylights and Roof Openings
  • Floor Openings (Stairwells)
  • High Winds
  • Falls from truck beds

6. Rescue Procedure

In the event that there is a fall on the job site, workers need proper training on what to do. There should always be at least one designated person with First Aid / CPR training onsite but everyone else should also understand their own responsibilities in an emergency. Here are the areas you should cover:

  • Emergency Action Plans
  • Assisted Rescue
  • Self Rescue

Access to all these toolbox talks, and more, in their account library, in one of the many benefits of being a Harness client. If you are not yet a client, you can check with your local trade association to see if they have content on the above topics available to you.

Conducting Safety Training Works

In the 70’s, the average number of deaths per day was 38. Since then, the efforts of OSHA, health and safety professionals, unions and other advocates have brought awareness to construction safety and provided ways to prevent accidents through training.

This has resulted in a significant drop to 15 deaths a day, and proves that training works. The most important contributors to this improvement are the employers who make safety a priority on a daily basis.

Even still, 15 deaths a day that could have been prevented, is 15 too many. In order to get this number down, every single employer must be committed to the health and safety of their workers.

Make the Commitment to Safety

The mere fact that you are reading this article, proves that you are on track to make a difference at your own company. The most successful safety programs are run by companies who create a positive culture or worker safety.

To find out how they do that you need to read:

Top 5 Ways to Foster a Safety Culture in You Construction Business