May 19, 2024

Al Phillips

Al Phillips – President

HOW ARE YOU? We often ask that question without really stopping to think about it. It’s become a routine part of our conversations. We usually respond with the expected “I’m good” or “I’m fine,” and secretly hope the other person does the same.

We’re not really aiming to have a deep conversation and most certainly not about our mental health. But maybe we should be. The statistics on mental health problems among our friends and co-workers are concerning, especially in the construction industry.

Work-related stress, depression and anxiety are top health concerns in our field. A study from the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan (CIRP) in B.C. found that 83 per cent of construction workers have faced moderate to severe mental health issues. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that construction workers have a 65 per cent higher suicide rate than other sectors. In B.C., construction workers represent 21% of toxic drug deaths amongst those who were fully employed. This is about us and the people we interact with every day. The sad truth is that many of us have experienced the tragic loss of a co-worker or friend due to poor mental health.

Workers in our industry are particularly susceptible to mental health issues due to a combination of factors. Our work often takes us out of town, separating us from our family and friends. Long hours and physical demands can take a toll on our well-being, which can sometimes lead to substance use problems. On top of all that, we don’t typically have open conversations about our emotional or mental well-being. It’s not considered cool to talk about feeling anxious or stressed out. It’s sometimes seen as a weakness, which can make it difficult for people to admit when they’re going through a tough time. It’s interesting to compare this to how we approach and openly discuss our physical injuries. When it comes to physical injuries or scars, we share every gritty detail and proudly wear them as symbols of strength and resilience.

It’s great to see that we’re finally changing our perspective on mental wellness. People like Corey Hirsch, former goalie for the Vancouver Canucks, are leading the way by openly discussing mental illness. This is a big step in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. Corey recently shared the personal struggles he faced at the peak of his career on an episode of the podcast The Hall produced by the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry Local 170 (UA 170).

Our governments have also acknowledged the importance of looking after workers’ physical and mental well-being. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, provincial legislation was passed that ensures all employees who have been working continuously for 90 days for the same employer will receive five paid illness and injury days per year. It specifically includes the inability to work due to mental health concerns.

Most recently, a national suicide crisis helpline,, was launched. By calling or texting 988 toll-free anytime, a responder is available to listen and provide support.

We as building trades members also have valuable resources at our disposal. Most of our affiliate unions have as part of their benefits plans employee assistance programs which provide confidential support services for members who are facing mental health challenges. The previously mentioned CIRP provides mental health and substance-use services to members including counselling, weekly group sessions and bed-based treatment services. CIRP has also collaborated with Lifeguard Digital Health to develop the Buildstrong app that offers learning materials on mental health and substance use. One feature is the Use Alone Timer, which is specifically designed to save lives by automatically alerting emergency services to a drug user’s location if they become unresponsive after consuming substances.

Now more than ever, it’s important to check on the well-being of our co-workers, our loved ones and ourselves. A few extra moments out of busy lives can make all the difference to someone who is going through a difficult time. It all begins with the simple question, “how are you?”

By Al Phillips