Mental health safety for construction workers

Mental health safety for construction workers

< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends | Contributors: MJ MacDonald (CEO, Construction Safety Nova Scotia) | Published: February 1, 2023

Don’t be afraid to share your own story and lead by example

Mental health is rightly a hot topic these days, but it is of a particular concern in the construction industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for male construction workers is over four times higher than the national suicide average.

In Nova Scotia, 142 people died by suicide in 2021, and 107 were men. This figure is the highest on record since data was collected on this metric in 2008. While we don’t yet have an industry breakdown in Nova Scotia, it is likely safe to assume some were construction workers.

This presents a significant opportunity for business leaders in the HRM. There are 18,000 construction workers in the Halifax area and as a leader, you have a platform to help support better mental wellness and to shape their mental health both on and off the job.

Start talking

The first piece of advice is to start talking to your team members. Ask them how they are doing. Listen. Offer solutions that you as the employer can provide and be sure to have some external supports on hand as well. Some examples include the Employee and Family Assistance Program, extended health benefits for psychologists, a flexible work schedule, and lists of community and suicide prevention resources.

Mitigate job stress

There are many deadlines to meet in the construction industry and it can be a high-stress environment. To offset this, foster a culture of support and have programs in place that can make work fun, such as contests or friendly competition. Set realistic expectations and adapt your leadership style to meet individual employee needs.

Also, make sure to recognize and provide positive feedback. Take the time to ensure your team understands the bigger picture — the work they are doing matters. A simple thank you for a job well done means a lot.

Lead by example

My mother was very ill and passed away in April, during the COVID-19 pandemic. I shared this news at work, and it felt good not to try and cover up and pretend everything was fine. I was very grateful for the support and empathy I received from my teammates; it made a tough time much easier and it helped my team know what was going on with me.

We have an opportunity to open up about our own mental health. As leaders, everything we do is being noted by your workforce. If they see you okay with talking about mental health, they are much more likely to do the same.

Be sure to take care of your own mental health too. Be a role model for rest, setting realistic deadlines, and good self-care. We all need to stay emotionally heathy to be a successful leader.

Ensure a safe working environment

Mental health is tied to safety on the job. If you sustain an injury at work, it affects every aspect of your life and can also impact your mental health. As leaders, we must ensure a safe work environment and that all workers are following safety protocols. We know from our legislation that safety at work is the employers’ responsibility. Establish and support a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee. Review work areas, identify hazards, and work collaboratively to mitigate them. Collect and review safety data. Use it to formulate plans for prevention and implement these. We recommend that psychological safety and workplace culture be a component of a good safety program.

Get trained

At Construction Safety Nova Scotia, we heard from our members that they want more help supporting the mental health of their workforce. In our most recent member survey, 40% of respondents said they were “very interested” in attending a Mental Health First Aid training course. We listened and are now offering this course in our Dartmouth training facility. You can sign up at

I took this course, and I am now certified in Mental Health First Aid. As a leader, I am much more prepared to deal with a mental health crisis, should one arise at my organization. I strongly encourage you to consider attending — you might just save a life.

Construction Safety Nova Scotia is a non-profit that offers training, safety and mental health resources, and Certificate of Recognition (COR®) certification to the construction sector across the province.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends

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