In the macho world of construction, discussions of wellbeing can seem out of place. The common perception is that seasoned construction workers should be able to deal with health issues, bravely soldiering on until payday.

The truth, however, is that health and wellbeing are important for all workers, regardless of their industry. Construction companies need to shake off old perceptions and start taking a more proactive lead in managing and protecting the wellbeing of their workers.

Consider the Numbers

Statistics from the HSE suggest that construction is a particularly dangerous industry for employees. Although just 5% of the total UK workforce are in construction, these workers account for 27% of all workplace fatalities, and 10% of reported major injuries. Construction workers are also 100 times more likely to die from a disease—like silicosis or asbestosis—as a result of their job.

The health impact of working in construction is long-term—54% of male construction workers do not reach a working age of 60 in the industry, and 56% of all male cancers are related to working in construction.

Employers are making improvements, but employees are still falling ill and dying from avoidable factors.

Health from an Employer’s Viewpoint

The cost in terms of human life is shocking, but from a financial standpoint, some employers may be tempted to keep health spending as low as possible. From the short-term view of the balance sheet, it makes sense to restrict expenditure to the bare essentials, but this could be storing up problems for the future.

Sickness and Absenteeism

Whenever a worker is injured, or contracts a serious illness, they will need to take time off to recover. Obviously this presents a series of problems:

  • Productivity will drop while your employee recovers
  • If the worker needs to be replaced, you will incur extra hiring and salary costs for a contractor
  • Your worker may be entitled to sick pay and compensation where your business is found to be at fault

Losing employees for any reason adds to the cost of a project. If margins are already stretched, can you afford to absorb those additional expenses?

Presenteeism

Almost as costly as having employees taking time off is the scourge of presenteeism. Your workers may think they are doing you a favor by turning up to work when not in the best of health, but they are not.

Sick or injured workers are less productive, and risk worsening their condition in the process. In many cases taking time off to recover may be less damaging to productivity than having them soldier on at reduced capacity.

Presenteeism is a cultural phenomenon whereby being seen at work is considered as important as actually doing work. A truly healthy construction force will be encouraged to take time off after injury to recover—even if it adds to project costs (for advice on dealing with this issue, see Distraction, Fatigue and Impairment: What Any Safety Professional Can Do).

Start Thinking Long Term

Instead of worrying about workers being off sick, employers should instead be planning to reduce instances of sickness and injury. In most cases this means strengthening existing health and safety risk assessments in order to prevent injury or exposure to factors likely to cause illness.

Many employers are also beginning to consider employee wellbeing—health factors that are not directly related to work itself. Wellbeing provisions are not a legal requirement, but they can significantly improve the overall health—and performance—of employees.

What Are These Wellbeing Factors?

Wellbeing factors include behaviors or situations workers face outside the workplace that impact their overall health. In some cases, support from their employer could benefit workers and decrease the likelihood that these outside factors contribute to long term illness or injury. Employees affected by substance abuse are just one example of a condition where employers can help, even if it is not directly related to the job. For example, an alcoholic bricklayer is unlikely to perform well at work and could present a significant risk to themselves and their colleagues.

Similarly, employees affected by mental health issues will also struggle to cope at work. One report suggests that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than fall from height, indicating just how common depression and related conditions are in the workforce (learn more in 8 Strategies to Promote Workplace Mental Health).

Although not required, construction firms should consider putting measures in place to help workers deal with non-work related conditions. By improving their overall health, these employees will be more productive. On average, every $1 spent on prevention saves employers $3 in costs due to employee health issues, providing a reasonable return on investment.

Wellbeing programs are also very attractive to would-be employees. Any construction firm that demonstrates it is committed to caring for its employees will find it much easier to attract the very best talent, which boosts productivity and profitability in the long run.

Obviously there are financial implications associated with wellbeing programs, but the returns and the employee satisfaction standards may be the justification you need to make the additional investment.

For more help and advice about employee wellbeing, and construction health and safety, please get in touch.