How to Make a Healthier Construction Worker

How to Make a Healthier Construction Worker

Construction workers are some of the toughest and hardest-working people in the country, but they’re also among the unhealthiest categories of workers. Part of that is obviously due to the physical nature of the job, but aside from that, there’s a strong correlation between unhealthy habits and construction employment that can and should be addressed. It’s time to get more hardcore about health and toughen up the industry in a new kind of way.

Employers have a big stake in this game. Bluntly stated, a healthier worker gets more done and works more years. But the challenge here is to shift perceptions throughout an industry that has historically been a bit stubborn when it comes to making healthier choices.

Let’s take a look at some strategies for how this can be achieved. It all starts by taking one step at a time and delivering a consistent message about personal health.


Adjust Perceptions

Healthy habits probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when a group of hard-working people get together, and that’s the first layer that will need to be addressed. Before any other tactics can work, the optics of healthy behaviors in the industry need to change. Employees need to understand that healthy choices aren’t for the weak. They take discipline and strength.

So how can this be achieved? For starters, company and crew cultures need to stop condoning unhealthy or risky behaviors. If an employee’s actions might inevitably lead to health problems, someone needs to point that out. Peer pressure is a powerful thing in construction, and it can be leveraged in positive ways to help workers live healthier.

Start with education from the bottom up, and frame it in a way that illustrates how truly tough people take a firm stance in keeping themselves healthy.

“If you want to be a real badass, start taking better care of yourself.”


Stop Eating Garbage

Gas station burritos and an energy drink is not a healthy breakfast. It’s probably only a notch or two above chemical waste. But how many times have you witnessed a crew making a pit stop early in the morning on the way to the jobsite? Hopping in the truck with two Mountain Dews and some Slim Jims to start the day?

Not only with this garbage make a person feel sluggish and tired later in the afternoon, it’s also a direct highway to health problems like diabetes and heart disease later in life.

To fix this, we’ll need to lead by example. Construction crews need to see better examples of fresh healthy foods they should be eating, in addition to convenient ways they can manage these foods on the job. It’s just about as easy to pack and eat something fresh like an apple and a pack of peanuts as it is to pack junk food. The upside is that you’ll get more energy throughout the day and likely better long-term health.

“Pack the banana, not the Snickers bar. You’ll thank me later.”


Snuff the Butts

Rates of smoking are ridiculous in the construction sector. The National Institutes of Health says that rates of smoking sit at a little over 1 in 4 workers in construction – twice the odds of tobacco use compared to all other workers.

Why is this? Well, as a fellow reformed smoker that has worked on many jobsites, it’s because smoking is what the older tough guys did and it offered a brief respite from the day’s hard work. So, it’s not hard to understand why it’s so prevalent.

It’s not going to be easy to get employees to quit, but research has shown that strong incentive and support programs (possibly through a company’s insurance or occupational health program) can be effective and will save businesses significant money in the long run.

Focus on some of your experienced employees that are current smokers. If they make the hard choice to quit, it just might motivate some of the younger workers to quit too.

“Quit smoking, kid. It was hard for me too, but so was being out of breath every trip up the stairs.”


Talk About It

As a final recommendation, and one that has truly risen to the forefront of the industry, construction employees need to take better care of their heads. And we don’t mean with hardhats.

With the rates of suicide twice that of other industries, mental health has become a major concern for employers. Building Indiana has covered this topic extensively in previous issues, and our other articles are available online for anyone wishing to learn more.

But here’s the point – it’s not easy for construction workers to open up and talk, and it’s getting them killed. Educate your employees about resources that can help and encourage them to open up to their peers. Tough people don’t have an easy time sharing their feelings, but it’s incredibly unhealthy and dangerous not to.

“You ever need somebody to talk to? I’ll be here for ya. You’re not alone.”


Health and Hard Work

Considering how physically challenging construction can be at times, a strong priority on healthy habits is a must for any company. Widespread change isn’t going to happen overnight, but time and consistency will be effective ways to ultimately reverse the unhealthy trends in construction. In the end, workers will feel better and may have a higher quality of life. And that’s a very worthwhile effort that’s worth pursuing.

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Category Features, Health