The Role of Unions: Construction’s Mental Health Crisis

Mental health issues in the workplace, whether they are a result of workplace stressors, genetics, or other factors, are not something to be overlooked. In fact these issues are being called a crisis, and as such, intervention has become necessary.

But how can employees and employers deal with this problem? Workers struggling with mental health issues may find it difficult to combat the effects of mental illnesses, addiction, and substance abuse all on their own. Employers cannot take on the task singlehandedly either.

This is where unions come in…

Mental Health & Construction Workers

First, let’s try to get to the root (or roots) of the problem. As is true with mental health issues in the workplace in general, causes can be multitudinous. Workplace stress can take a toll on healthy psyches just as much as it can take a toll on minds that have predispositions for mental illness.

In construction, however, it has been found that mental health issues are far more prevalent than in most other industries. For example, 60% of construction workers report a struggle with mental health. Even more shocking, the CDC reports that the construction industry has the highest suicide rate of all industries.

Because of this, mental illness has been dubbed the ‘silent killer’ in the construction field. The problem is serious. If employers and employees want to prevent burnout, a loss of productivity, or worse yet, suicide, they need to handle the situation with all hands on deck.

And what entity is better to aid and help than one whose sole purpose is just that? Let’s talk a bit about the general role of labor unions before getting into their role in the crisis at hand.

Labor Unions

What exactly is a union? A labor union (or trade union) is an organization of workers whose goal is to improve working conditions and job satisfaction in their respective industries.

Some examples of unions for construction workers in the United States include NABTU (North America’s Building Trades Unions) and LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America). Their missions are similar. They aim to improve the quality of life for its members and increase job satisfaction, benefits, and fairness.

Solidarity amongst workers is strongly encouraged, and members will often ‘unionize’ and negotiate things like benefits, standards, and wages with employers.

Trade unions are extremely important. They give their members a voice and a chance to speak up about possible unfair or unsafe conditions.

And, as we have already established, unsafe conditions don’t just refer to rickety scaffolding or chemical inhalation. Unsafe conditions may also mean conditions wherein stressors are high and mental health awareness is not taken as seriously as it needs to be.

The Role of Unions: Combating The Mental Health Crisis in Construction

Now, what do unions do to aid construction workers and their mental health? Here are four ways in which unions combat the mental health crisis in the construction industry.

Promote a culture of safety

Good safety culture is important on every job site, but arguably none more so than on a construction site. Because construction is a dangerous job as is, workplace stress amongst employees doesn’t just come from deadlines and responsibilities. It comes from the fear of injury or even death.

So, how do unions play a role in combating the prevalence of these stressors? Unions ensure that:

Increase fairness and job satisfaction

Another reason why instances of mental health issues, addiction, and substance abuse may arise is due to unfair job conditions. In a workplace where an employee is not valued nor paid the right wages or shown appreciation, job satisfaction will more often than not be at an all-time low.

Unions are there to negotiate fair working conditions for their members and to make sure that wages and benefits are what their members deserve. With increased job satisfaction naturally comes a decreased rate of job-related depression and substance abuse.

Provide treatment in the form of benefits

While prevention is indeed better than cure, sometimes people deal with mental health issues that are genetic or as a result of things like trauma or injuries. In these cases, treating the problem after it has presented itself is all that you can do.

Unions help their members out by seeking the right kinds of health benefits for them – not just for physical health but for mental health too.

Many unions will work both within the union and with the employers to ensure that mental health treatment is readily available for the construction workers they represent

Boost awareness

When safer conditions, job satisfaction, or better benefits cannot help the mental health crisis of employees in construction, one of the best things to do is to increase awareness.

It seems so simple, but the mere act of recognizing problems and encouraging education can make a world of difference.

Unions like NABTU have task forces for addiction awareness and prevention. They aim to:

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that unions can have a significant role in alleviating some of the pressure that the mental health crisis in construction poses.

SkillSignal is here to help. You can use our documents feature to assign toolbox talks on mental health, substance abuse, and much more. You can even take it a step further and assign training resources in the form of videos that all workers must complete before starting work. Are you interested in learning more? Contact us today at: 917-745-6877 or

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