- Over a third of trade and construction workers smoke and over two-thirds are overweight or obese. Direct and indirect costs resulting from associated illnesses total over $316.6 billion for the construction industry alone.
- Developing a wellness program can reduce absenteeism and workers compensation claims.
- Get everyone involved, including leadership. Incentives are a critical element in increasing participation.
Construction work is hard enough on a body without adding poor health to the equation. The accident and illness statistics for construction workers aren’t stellar. As an employer, there is something you can do about it.
Develop a wellness program customized to your construction company. Help your employees get on track for a long, productive life—whether they work on the job site or sit behind a desk.
Health statistics in construction
Would it surprise you to know that construction and mining workers have the highest smoking rate as well as the highest rate of heavy drinking compared to all industries?
- 30.2 percent of construction and mining workers smoke.
- In 2005, 37.7 percent of trade workers were current smokers.
- 10.1 percent of construction and mining workers drink alcohol to excess.
- By comparison, only 20 percent of workers over all industries smoke.
But wait, there’s more bad news.
In 2010, 71 percent of construction workers were overweight or obese compared to 63 percent for all industries. In the 35 to 54-year-old cohort—men in their prime working years—76 percent were considered obese.
- Obese workers have a 25 percent higher rate of work-related injuries.
- They generate seven times more workers compensation claims.
- They have an absenteeism rate that is ten times higher than average due to work injuries and illness.
Smoking and obesity open the door to other health issues, including higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Direct and indirect costs associated with these illnesses total over $316.6 billion for the construction industry alone.
Construction workers perform physical labor. It should follow that they are in great shape—but instead, they’re getting sicker faster.
Why offer a wellness program?
The statistics provide pretty good motivation. A wellness program helps reduce injury and illness, thereby reducing insurance claims. You may even save on premiums if your workforce reduces its smoking rate.
Employee retention and absenteeism will shrink as well. In turn, you will be helping your workers remain active in the industry as long as possible. They win because they have a longer earning life. You win because you retain experienced workers in a tight labor environment.
Essential wellness program elements
The most crucial element of your program are the incentives. You want to encourage participation in the program—get everyone to have regular health checks and screenings for the illnesses mentioned above.
Make sure you offer it to all employees, not just those you believe are of higher risk. Encourage teamwork, but don’t be afraid to throw in a little competition. Ensure visible participation by having the leadership and management set a good example. Finally, Keep. It. Simple.
Once you have defined your program, promote it through every communication network you have at your disposal. You can get help by partnering with groups like the American Heart Association. The AHA state chapters have a program called Hard Hats with Heart you can join. Look for similar programs for diabetes and other wellness issues.
Customize Your Wellness Program for Construction
There are several ways to drive education and participation that work for many job roles in the trades.
- Have daily stretching and flexibility exercises on the job site and at the office.
- Subsidize healthy lunch delivery.
- Replace the snacks in the vending machines with healthier choices.
- Provide incentives and assistance to reduce or quit nicotine use.
- Offer healthy cooking classes and health education seminars.
One approach: Offer a “sandwich” seminar with a healthy sandwich buffet. Have workers assemble their own healthy lunch, plus provide a talk or video for learning about healthy lifestyles as they eat.
It’s an unfortunate fact that the people of the United States weigh more on average than ever before. It’s one of those “First World problems” we’d prefer not to have. However, you can help your own corner of the world move toward a healthy lifestyle that produces winners all the way around.