Canadian Occupational Safety

May/June 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 26 of 35 27 contracts lead workers to be separated from friends and family for long periods of time. Gullestrup explains that the structure of the industry is projects- based, which means that project managers go out to find builders based on how fast and cost effective they are. Managers find sub-contractors on the same basis, who then staff their sites. "Workers are often employed by small businesses on a project-by-project basis. There's very little connection between employees and employers. They might invest in a small core, but most people come and go… This is a highly competitive environment." Grant says workers in the industry often face precariousness and financial instability. "It can be a feast or famine industry. When you're working, it can be very long hours, but if you're not working, you're very worried about where the next job is going to come." And men in the industry are afraid to speak up about it, she says, notably out of concern for their careers. the construction industry. It points to problems such as isolation, precarious working conditions, poor attitudes toward help-seeking and the stigma facing those with mental health issues, alcohol and drug use and sleep and physical activity. "Substance abuse is definitely a problem in our industry," says Grant. She points out that 25% of B.C. fentanyl-related deaths are fully employed construction workers. "It's such a physical industry. We're always battling those tight deadlines. People who get injured or even just an ailment may not take the time to heal." Workers may get opioid prescriptions from doctors to help them get back to work faster. Grant says substance abuse and suicide seem to go hand in hand. She says that "suicides can cluster; if there's a suicide in a group, the chance of another one increases by 75%." This is made worse by the fact that, due to the nature of the industry, workers can feel very isolated. Some "People are worried about being left out of things, professional development and promotions, if they speak up about suffering from a mental illness. People are worried about how it could impact or slow their career. Ultimately, people are worried about being fired, not in a transparent way but for an alternative reason," says Grant. Gullestrup agrees. "It's really a situation where you can't talk to your employer about it because they want 100%, so each sign of weakness can make you unemployable." What does the industry need to do? "I think that, first and foremost, leadership needs to embrace the fact that people are not going to milk a claim of mental illness to their advantage. People don't claim mental illness to have a day off for skiing. In fact, people are more likely to say they have the flu when in fact they may be suffering from depression and anxiety," says Grant. Gullestrup says one thing we can do is change employment practices to make WHAT IS MATES IN CONSTRUCTION? MATES in Construction (MATES) is a charity established in 2008 that focuses on suicide prevention in the construction industry. The organization operates independently of employers and unions and works for the construction industry generally rather than directly for a particular employer. MATES is an Australian charity, active in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. It provides community development programs on-site, case management and a 24/7 help line. In partnership with the Oz-Help Foundation, MATES additionally provides "Life Skills Toolbox" training to apprentices and young workers. Source: MATES in Construction

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