OPINION: Culture Change — Construction Safety Week puts focus on total human health

By Samantha DeAlmeida Roman | Originally posted on njbiz.com

As we mark National Construction Safety Week, our industry needs to focus on total human health, not just physical safety. The Associated Builders and Contractors’ New Jersey Chapter believes that those who have chosen a career in construction are the industry’s most valuable assets.

Construction workers use tools every day, and we must also give them the tools they need to address mental health and suicide prevention. Their mental health must be prioritized as much as their physical safety.

Our passion for safeguarding employee mental health has grown into ABC’s Total Human Health Initiative to better reflect the importance of the person at the center of it all. Total human health is focused on building a resilient workforce connected though relationships and engaged in performing construction work to a high standard. It incorporates a whole-person approach to engage a person’s body, mind, heart and soul; psychological safety that is respectful and inclusive of a diverse workforce; acknowledgement of the risk of distraction; and impairment and responding with appropriate care.

This year, ABC added total human health as a key component of an effective safety program in its STEP Safety Management System, an over 30-year-old, proven system that provides the

framework to measure, strengthen and build industry-leading safety programs. Any member company can participate in STEP by visiting abc.org/step.

Sadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, construction occupations have the highest rate of suicide, as well as the highest rate of suicides across all occupational groups — a number that is four times greater than the national average. Now more than ever, it is time we prioritize mental health and suicide prevention just as seriously as we do on-the-job safety.


Samantha DeAlmeida Roman, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey

There are a number of reasons why workers in the construction industry are at risk for mental health issues and a higher suicide rate than other fields. First, male-dominated industries are more likely to have more suicides, and the construction industry is 97% male, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, men are also less likely to reach out for mental health support for depression and other wellness issues. Additionally, constantly moving to and from different jobsites can create a stressful environment for workers who are displaced from their families, friends and communities. Working long, irregular hours can cause sleep deprivation and mental and physical exhaustion. Employees may also be affected by layoffs due to seasonal work, economic downturns and the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the loss of income and health benefits. Finally, construction work can be physically demanding and can take a toll on a person’s body, leading to self-medication and addiction problems.

According to the Construction Alliance for Suicide Prevention, there are approximately three jobsite fatalities in construction every day and an estimated 10 to 12 suicides among construction workers. The only way to combat these dire statistics is to change the culture in construction and treat mental health just as importantly as job site safety. The Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey has pledged to join other contractors, unions, associations, industry service providers and project owners in standing up for suicide prevention.

For far too long, seeking treatment for mental health issues has been stigmatized, particularly in the male-dominated, so-called “tough guy” construction industry. Not only do we need to normalize mental health and wellness treatment, we need to provide training to our employees and managers to identify those at risk and raise awareness of the suicide crisis in construction. The industry needs to prioritize the early detection of burn-out among our workers and provide them with support, both physically and mentally.

To that end, the Associated Builders and Contractors and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently announced a collaborative partnership to address mental health and suicide prevention throughout the construction industry. The goals of the partnership are to improve the mental health of construction workers through effective suicide prevention education, intervention and postvention strategies, as well as to encourage, equip and empower mental health champions in the workforce.

By changing the culture of the construction industry and how we approach mental health issues, we can make a difference in the lives of our workers.