May 6, 2020

Psychologically safe workplaces are imperative to the mental health of construction workers.

That’s why the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan has introduced several new initiatives designed to improve mental health safety in the workplace and to support those facing substance use challenges across the industry. These initiatives will directly address some of the most pressing issues, such as the opioid crisis, as well as provide ongoing planning and training for workers and employers.

Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in the workplace, said CIRP executive director Vicky Waldron. According to CIRP’s own research, 83 per cent of construction industry workers have experienced some form of moderate to severe mental health issue. This research also showed that construction workers had high rates of early childhood trauma (90 per cent) as well as undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (70 per cent).

“It is widely recognized that suicide rates amongst construction workers remain some of the highest.” – CIRP executive director Vicky Waldron

Waldron said the workplace itself has a significant impact on mental health, and that creating psychologically safer workplaces can help to improve the mental health of workers. Canadian standards for psychologically safe workplaces are environments where employees are encouraged to participate, she noted, adding that there needs to be a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion in order for everyone to participate.

CIRP is in the process of setting up mental health committees, which are tasked with improving “mental health literacy” throughout the industry. The committees will promote a more positive workplace culture, said Waldron, and help to raise awareness and reduce stigma associated with mental health. Interventions will be made at the community level, through company management training and apprenticeships, and will provide support to individuals.

CIRP has also initiated a service to help construction workers deal with chronic pain without having to use opioids. The opioid-free pain service is undergoing a six-month trial and is free for members of the BC Building Trades (BCBT) and the Construction Labour Relations Association (CLRA).

“At the moment, there are two options available for dealing with chronic pain,” said Waldron. “Option one is taking Tylenol, acetaminophen and opioids. The other option is doing months, or years, of physiotherapy with the related long-term recovery. The industry needs to have people back to work quickly,” she said.

“We are in the very early research stages around myofascial activation and seeing good results with around one-to-four sessions,” said Waldron. The method, which uses trigger point needling techniques, is provided in the context of other drug-free options to managing pain such as psychoeducational counselling, restorative yoga, and physiotherapy.

The Joint Industry Committee (JIC) is a very new initiative that has brought together members of the wider construction industry, said Waldron. The JIC will provide strategic planning, as well as training on mental health and substance use issues facing the industry.

CIRP is looking ahead to develop a network of mental health champions in order to promote mental health awareness in the workplace. A Train the Trainer model will be employed to cover topics like how to spot a person in distress, how to talk about suicide, and how to maintain self-care, said Waldron. “We would like to offer ongoing support for the trainers as well,” she said.

While much of this work has now halted due to COVID-19,  CIRP has shifted its focus to online platforms including development of weekly webinars providing education and online supports related to mental wellness.