The construction industry is a hard place to stay healthy. The work is physically demanding and often dangerous. Workers are spread out in the field, typically lacking access to the same health programs and resources available to employees in office environments. Turnover is high. Mental health is a known challenge—the rate of suicide is 40% higher for construction workers than those in other industries.
And even in the face of these known challenges, construction companies are, politely put, not always known for promoting health and well-being within their companies. Pursuing health, safety, and well-being for construction workers is no small challenge, which is why it is so important.
When stacked against their peers in this industry—RK stands out. In the words of Health Links™ Program Manager David Shapiro, “RK is a construction company that has essentially instituted a wellness clinic within their own walls.” Jennifer Birge and Sammy Pardee serve as internal wellness coaches for all RK employees. The programs they offer are extensive, addressing some of the greatest health risks among construction workers. “The more health information and programs we can provide, the more employees have a chance to change,” says Jennifer.
To tackle tobacco-use, RK employees can receive a monthly $100 incentive for being nicotine-free. Those looking to improve other aspects of their physical health can join the company’s wellness program to receive a $75 monthly incentive. This wellness program includes a quarterly check-up with either Jennifer or Sammy, where employees set goals, such as losing weight, decreasing stress, or lowering blood pressure. Each year, RK teams up with the American Heart Association to participate in the Check. Change. Control.® campaign. “People are always surprised to hear we have a wellness program since we’re construction,” says Jennifer. “To us, it makes total sense—if people don’t smoke, they’re more productive. If people are healthier, they’ll take fewer sick days and insurance claims will go down. Financially, it makes sense. But also, the value that we’re investing in people, which is harder to quantify, matters even more.”
Sammy and Jennifer make up quite a qualified wellness team. Sammy has a background in exercise science while Jennifer has a background in nutrition specializing in diabetes. If a concern arises in an employee’s quarterly wellness meeting, or an employee is looking for help with an issue outside of either Jennifer or Sammy’s expertise, they are referred to a list of experts. “It’s not every day when an employee’s wife thanks you because the wellness program encouraged her husband to get a physical,” Jennifer says. “The doctors discovered that he had cancer and were able to treat him far earlier than they otherwise would have. I can’t quantify the value of her gratitude.”
Each morning, RK employees gather for “Toolbox Talks” where they stretch to prepare their bodies for the day’s work. Supervisors use this time to update workers on company news, new safety protocols, and health and well-being initiatives. These talks have touched on health topics such as dehydration—a health issue that can easily become a safety issue—as well as nicotine use and heart health. “The managers are in the field more than we are,” says Jen. “If they talk about health initiatives, it gives employees the idea that safety and wellness go together.” RK was recently recognized in NPR for its efforts in workplace mental health awareness, specifically suicide prevention. The company’s emphasis on not just safety, not just physical health, but also emotional health and well-being, is a shining example of Total Worker Health®. This type of integration is what we hope for all workers in all industries.
Written by Laura Veith, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Health Links and the Center for Health, Work & Environment based at the Colorado School of Public Health.