Working in the construction industry is both physically and mentally demanding, and the added stress of the holiday season can take a toll on workers' mental health. For some, the temptation to turn to alcohol or other substances as a way to cope with the stress can be substantial.
With one of the highest suicide rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is essential for companies in the construction industry to offer practical information and resources to workers during this challenging time. Share the insight in this article about mental health and substance abuse during a construction safety toolbox talk or safety briefing this holiday season.
Preventing Alcohol and Substance Abuse on Construction Sites
Alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time, making for unsafe working conditions. Around the holidays especially, consumption of these substances tends to increase, with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reporting that people are more likely to drink beyond their limits during the holidays than at other times of the year.
Holiday-related substance abuse issues compound when in a construction setting. “Construction work is generally demanding, dangerous and hectic, with taxing workplace events such as industrial disputes and downsizing commonplace,” explains a report by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. “Such stressful working conditions may facilitate alcohol and/or drug use as forms of stress relief. In addition, construction workers appear to have a propensity to underestimate risks associated with heavy drinking and smoking, or not heeding safety precautions to wear sunscreen or protective equipment on site, and thus engage in behaviors that might be risky to their health and workplace.”
Tips for Discussing Substance Abuse on Jobsites
Construction leaders must discuss substance use and abuse with site crews through safety briefings and toolbox talks. Key points to include during the discussion include:
- Describe the dangers of substance abuse and how it can negatively affect work onsite. Be sure to discuss both onsite and offsite consumption. Onsite consumption can impair judgment, coordination, and performance. Offsite consumption can lead to absenteeism, decreased productivity, and poor quality at the jobsite.
- Explain what appropriate substance use looks like. Remind crews to consume alcohol in moderation, set limits, avoid impaired driving, and always drink responsibly.
- Tell workers to look out for each other and bring attention to any concerns. Often those who work side-by-side day in and day out are most in tune with each other’s livelihoods and could be the reason someone gets the help they need.
- Reiterate the company’s alcohol policy. Read the policy in full and express the consequences of violating the policy.
- Emphasize that it is an employer’s and employee’s duty to foster a safe work environment. Agencies such as OSHA and Safe Work Australia require employers to provide safe working conditions and employees to arrive to work fit for duty. Showing up intoxicated or allowing intoxicated workers to perform work violates these requirements.
- Offer assistance to those who may be struggling with substance abuse. Provide workers with resources to get help with abuse issues such as EAP, Alcohol and Drug Helpline, and local organizations.
Supporting Construction Workers' Mental Health during the Holidays
Mental health should be a priority for all construction companies throughout the entire year, but a renewed focus is necessary around the holidays. The American Addiction Centers survey data found that more than 84 percent of respondents were moderately to overwhelmingly stressed during the holidays. Such stress can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and potentially increase workplace injuries and fatalities.
Tips for Supporting Worker Mental Health
Offer these helpful reminders and resources to crews before the holidays and during other stressful times throughout the year:
- Maintain healthy habits. Getting out of a routine during the holidays is easy, especially when taking time off. This is your reminder to eat healthily, get enough sleep, and always exercise. Small healthy habits will go a long way to achieving peace of mind.
- Have realistic expectations. Whether planning a party or setting goals for the new year, have realistic expectations of what lies ahead. Unrealistic goals can lead to a defeated feeling when things do not go as planned.
- Disconnect from work. The best way to return to work refreshed and ready to tackle a new task is by disconnecting from work during your time off. Avoid checking emails and focus on being present with those around you.
- Manage stress levels. Plan ahead, do not overcommit yourself, and set boundaries to avoid feeling out of control and stressed during the holidays.
- Reach out for help. There is no reason to suffer alone. Encourage employees to reach out to co-workers, loved ones, counselors, or even anonymous helplines when trouble persists.