Skeet Black
Skeet Black
Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services
The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
Occupational Health & Safety
Prioritizing Mental Health
By Skeet Black

ental health is a significant topic of concern in the construction field right now, and for good reason. A 2020 study by the Construction Industry Rehab Plan, or CIRP, found that 83% of all construction workers have experienced some form of moderate to severe mental health issue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, construction has the second highest suicide rate of all industries, with 45.3 suicides per 100,000 workers reported through the National Violent Death Reporting System, effective in thirty-two states, in 2016. That’s almost four times greater than the national average and five times greater than all other construction fatalities combined.

According to a 2022 article about construction workers and addiction from the American Addiction Centers, 15% of all construction workers in the United States have a substance abuse disorder, compared to 8.6% of the general population of adults, and they suffer significantly higher morbidity ratios for drug overdose than workers in most other industries. All of these statistics leave many employers searching for solutions.

In this article we will address three solutions and discuss some of the hidden barriers to access that may hinder success.

One solution many employers consider is an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. These programs are designed to benefit employees with psychosocial issues that influence their mental health and potentially affect their work performance. The issues can be personal or work related and can include everything from family counseling to financial counseling. EAPs are often a 1-800 helpline that offers a confidential starting point for employees to access help. The costs associated with these programs vary significantly based on the services offered, but in a 2021 construction industry survey, 80% of CEOs and company owners saw value in some kind of EAP.
Another solution to consider is enhanced supervisor training. Having supervisors that can identify signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and who are actively watching for them on the jobsite, can be a huge benefit to your workforce as well as a significant safety element for your company. This should be considered for all supervisors, not just safety managers.
Bringing mental health awareness down to the employee level is another way to improve workplace safety. Including mental health modules in your safety meetings and making mental health literature available to your workforce are important elements in creating a safe jobsite. You may want to consider letting employees choose the mental health topics for safety meetings. Some may be going through a divorce or have stress due to caring for elderly parents, and a toolbox talk around resources available could be very helpful. Be careful not to accidentally expose your employees’ issues in the process. You may want the suggestion/ selection process to be confidential to protect people from ridicule or uncomfortable questioning about their choice of topic.
When implementing your solution, be mindful of hidden barriers. Employees who fear reprisal, rebuke, shame, or guilt will not access mental health programs no matter how easy or affordable they are. In 2021, the Mental Health and Well-being in the Construction Industry Pulse Survey found that only 26% of the people polled would likely seek care for a significant mental health issue. Of those polled, 78% said they would not seek help because of stigma or shame, 77% said they would not seek help for fear of judgment by peers, and 55% said fear of negative job consequences would keep them from reaching out.

What’s surprising is that 94% of those same respondents stated that they recognized the importance of sharing mental health resources with workers and encouraging people to get help when it’s needed.

There are things you can do to remove hidden barriers, and there are things you can do to create them. First, your solution cannot be a “one-and-done.” While your employees may not know how to address mental health issues, they do know it isn’t something that can be fixed with cut and paste. One-and-done solutions give the impression that there is no genuine concern for employees. They can create distrust regarding the solution’s confidentiality and may feel like traps, making employees hesitant to access them.

Leadership should engage with employees regarding why mental health issues are so important and discuss any implementation of new measures. Ensuring mental health is a visible goal on an ongoing basis—and regularly communicating how to access available solutions and encouraging people to connect with those solutions—can go a long way to removing hidden barriers. Consider discussing the costs of the mental health programs with your employees. Communication around the investment in mental health care from leadership can make people feel empowered to use it.

Engaging early on in the recruitment and hiring process can have a powerful impact. Having human resource leaders state that mental health is a significant part of corporate culture during the interview process and including mental health training during onboarding makes it much easier and more impactful when supervisors discuss mental health issues during safety meetings.


Another recommendation from is to share a continuous stream of information and resources on mental health and substance misuse. Include newsletters, posters, information about how to access the EAP, crisis hotlines, and well-being resources. Bring it up at company gatherings, project kickoff meetings, and safety huddles. A continuous, consistent message will help break down those barriers and make your employees more comfortable getting help if and when they need it.

Finally, consider hiring a specialist. Mental health safety is a specialized field, and getting professional assistance building, training, and implementing whatever program you choose will help ensure you’re getting the most value and engagement possible.
Skeet Black is a lifelong Alaskan with more than twenty years in the healthcare field. In his current role with Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services, he helps companies with their remote medical needs, occupational health requirements, drug and alcohol testing needs, and safety and training solutions.