The concept of safety in the construction industry may call to mind the physical dangers of the worksite. After all, those in construction are routinely operating heavy equipment, working with electricity, moving materials and using powerful tools, often high above the ground. It’s a physically demanding vocation that combines a high level of skill with often back-breaking work.

With these inherent risks, accidents on constructions sites are, unfortunately, not uncommon. In fact, construction accounts for almost 20% of all workplace injuries, illness and fatalities—a sobering statistic. This is why a culture of safety is so important in the construction industry, and there’s more to it than you might immediately imagine.

Physical health is only part of the equation when it comes to construction safety.

This year, National Construction Safety Week is the first week in May, which is also Mental Health Awareness Month. The overlap is significant because there’s a strong and vital link because the mental health of construction workers and their safety.

An employee in any industry who is anxious, stressed or depressed can experience distraction on the job. However, for construction workers the risks of not being mentally present are more serious than simply lost productivity. When construction workers aren’t psychologically present or are distracted, it can lead to serious safety implications for themselves and their co-workers.

Mental health issues are more common in construction than in the general public. Research by the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, a Canadian organization, found that 83% of construction workers north of the border have experienced some form of moderate to severe mental health issue, while here in the US CDC data indicates that the construction industry has the second highest rate of employee suicide. There are also high suicide rates among construction workers in the UK and Australia. Clearly, mental health is something that needs to be included in any conversation about construction workplace safety.

The nature of construction work can lead to mental health issues.

The work itself may underpin some of the psychological challenges construction workers face. While not unique to the industry, there are several key factors that can contribute to mental health issues in construction. Some of these are related to the physical aspects of the work and include:

  • Long workdays
  • Difficult, tiring labor
  • Pain from injury or overuse

Injury and chronic pain—which are common in construction based on the nature of the work—can actually contribute to employees’ anxiety, stress and depression, conditions that lead to the distraction and lack of focus that are an antecedent to workplace injuries. So, it becomes a vicious and unrelenting circle unless both physical and psychological well-being are addressed as part of workplace safety protocols.

Holistic well-being is key for construction workers.

National Construction Safety Week highlights the importance of both physical and psychological health to increase the safety of those working in the industry. While construction workers, managers and safety experts are trained to recognize physical risks, more attention needs to be paid to recognizing the sign of psychological risk.

Perhaps the biggest improvement in addressing the mental health needs of those in the construction industry is to recognize the extent of this “silent epidemic” and take steps to remove the stigma associated with getting help. Construction employers need to take stock of the mental health benefits they offer and ensure employees know they are available and how to access them.

National Construction Safety Week is the ideal time to commit to creating a safety framework that takes into account people’s physical welfare along with their psychological well-being. This is the best path to the safest construction workplaces.

Want to learn more about the current state of construction safety? Check out our infographic for top construction safety stats.