If your company doesn’t offer employee assistance plans (EAPs), consider some statistics. The construction industry has the highest number of suicides and the second-highest suicide rate among major occupational groups, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among major U.S. industries, construction has the second-highest rate of substance abuse, per a 2015 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Meanwhile, the Department of Labor says drug and alcohol abuse contributes to up to 65% of on-the-job accidents and up to 50% of workers’ compensation claims.
An industrywide issue
In an industry that values toughness and often demands long hours of physical labor, construction workers often don’t feel comfortable raising mental health issues or asking for help. As a result, feelings of stress, grief, anxiety and depression can amplify, leading to self-medication — and even thoughts of suicide.
A need for pain management, arising from on-the-job injuries, also can morph into drug dependency and mental health issues. These, in turn, may lead to lower productivity, more absences and jobsite safety issues.
In fact, the United States is facing an opioid epidemic in part because medical professionals began prescribing opioid medications at a higher rate for injuries and chronic pain during the 1990s — before they realized these substances were highly addictive — according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These medications include but aren’t limited to morphine, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®) and oxymorphone (Opana®).
CNA Insurance claims data indicates that prescription opioid use is greater in the construction industry than in any other.
How EAPs can help
An EAP is a voluntary and confidential work-based intervention program designed to help employees and their dependent family members deal with issues that may be affecting their mental health, emotional well-being and job performance.
Such issues can include workplace stress, grief, depression, marriage/family problems, psychological disorders, and alcohol and drug dependency. By calling a number or visiting a Web portal, employees can immediately connect with a professional counselor and receive free assessments, short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services.
The annual cost of an EAP for employers is typically $25 per employee, according to the Employee Assistance Trade Association. The return on investment — reflected in reduced medical, disability and worker’s comp costs, as well as higher levels of productivity — equates to $3 or more for every dollar invested in EAP services, per the same source.
When implementing EAPs, it’s important for employees to understand that free and confidential mental health resources are available. A good way to keep these services top of mind is by distributing EAP and crisis hotline numbers via flyers, posters, company newsletters and/or pocket- or wallet-size cards employees can carry with them.
In addition, train supervisors to recognize the signs of stress and substance abuse so they can intervene and get workers the help they need. Obviously, whenever a jobsite accident occurs, everyone involved should also be reminded of the availability of EAPs both immediately afterward and in the months following.
You’ll need to carefully assess the costs of establishing EAPs and maintaining them. When properly implemented, these plans can pay off in a healthier workforce and stronger employee retention.
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