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May 15, 2019

On a construction site, we wear hard hats, safety vests, harnesses, gloves and more to help ensure our safety. But health and wellness impact more than our physical bodies. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or even suicidal, that pain is internal and may not be visible to your colleagues and others in your life, even to those closest to you. 

Once, following a Task Hazard Analysis and Toolbox Talk, a tradesman asked everyone to wear orange the following day to support his one-year-old daughter who has Leukemia. Most of us had no idea what he was going through. We don’t often discuss mental health, mental awareness and distractions in construction. But ours is a dangerous industry, and even innocent distractions can lead to accidents.

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Unfortunately, our industry creates a perfect storm of factors that contribute to higher than average rates of mental health issues for workers, including the following:

  • “Tough Guy” culture (construction remains a male-dominated business)
  • High pressure environment with schedule, budgetary and quality demands
  • Chronic pain from years of hard physical labor and working in the cold and heat
  • Sleep deprivation due to early morning work schedules and rotating shifts
  • Higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Stigma of mental illness

All of us have been distracted on the job by other circumstances at some point, and most of us won’t ask for help. So what can we do? Keep an eye on your co-workers for these warning signs:

  • Arriving to work late or missing work more than usual
  • Appearing to be distracted and lacking focus on the workday tasks
  • Isolating themselves - taking breaks or eating lunch alone when they typically eat with the crew
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Increase in incidents or near misses

Mental health issues are more prevalent than we know, and they impact all occupations. We can't tell what is going through our coworkers' heads and what is happening in their personal lives that may affect their work. Starting a conversation about mental health isn't easy, but your friendship and attentiveness may make the difference on the jobsite and far beyond.

 If you are experiencing the signs above, I encourage you to get help. If you aren't sure where to start, consider the following resources:

About the Author

Daniel Ruane

Daniel Ruane, CSP, CHSTDirector of Safety, Illinois & Wisconsin

Dan has 15 years of experience as a safety professional in the construction industry. In his role as director of safety, Dan is responsible for planning, implementation and maintenance of Pepper's safety training programs. He is involved in pre-planning of projects to ensure all safety and health concerns are addressed and conducts regular project safety audits.

Dan is actively involved in promoting safety in the industry. He serves as chairman of the Builders Association (AGC Chicago Branch) Safety and Health Committee and is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). He speaks at several events throughout the year including quarterly forums and the spring summit/safety awards ceremony. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from Illinois State University, and he is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST).