Safety and health is a top priority for the OPCMIA International Training Fund (ITF). While we have historically focused on physical health—preventing injuries, illnesses and accidents in deeply demanding crafts that involve hard physical labor, heavy equipment and challenging working conditions—it’s now apparent that mental health is every bit as important.
In fact, it’s urgent. The construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates among all industries in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Construction workers are more likely to suffer from opioid addiction and opioid overdose deaths, problems often exacerbated by chronic pain resulting from musculoskeletal disorders. And construction workers are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
The OPCMIA ITF works closely with CPWR–The Center for Construction Research and Training to incorporate mental health awareness, prevention and treatment into our training programs. CPWR also offers webinars on mental health issues in the industry, offering useful information from leading experts in the field.
In addition, one of the OPCMIA’s largest signatory contractors, Skanska, has launched a “Total Worker Health” initiative designed to weave mental health into a comprehensive strategy for ensuring worker safety. As Joaquin Diaz, director of environmental health and safety for Skanska USA Building, recently wrote in Construction Dive, “We need to get comfortable with talking about the uncomfortable… We cannot underestimate the way mental health issues can have ripple effects on the workplace and the safety of other individuals. But we can safeguard our workers’ well-being and support them more than ever with a more holistic approach.”
All of this work, on the part of the OPCMIA ITF and our employers, could not be more critical, especially because, as Diaz wrote, “seeking help or support for mental health conditions is often stigmatized and considered taboo.”
We must get rid of this stigma once and for all. As fulfilling as our crafts are, our members often experience high-pressure situations, extended travel, long hours, cyclical work, exposure to extreme weather conditions, and isolation, any of which can lead to stress and mental health concerns. All of our members must be made to feel comfortable asking for help when they need it. And our members need to be informed about how to look out for their brothers’ and sisters’ well-being. There is an important role for everyone to play in protecting our members’ mental health and the OPCMIA ITF is doing everything we can to make this happen.