COVID-19 has heightened safety protocols across the board in an effort to keep everyone safe from the spread of the disease. The home building industry has always been a staunch advocate for the safety of workers, but COVID-19 has heightened some of elements that can affect builders’ safety, which companies continue to work hard to address.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on infectious disease and trying to prevent the spread of infectious disease,” observed Dr. Scott Earnest, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of Construction Safety and Health and manager of the NORA Construction Sector, in a recent interview with The Hill.TV. “There’s a lot of teleworking and things like that. So it’s really had an impact on the entire industry in many different ways.”
The Construction Sector, which includes representatives from NAHB, has been actively promoting the use of masks, frequent handwashing and disinfecting of surfaces to help maintain worker safety. Exposure remains a key concern among workers, he added, and companies have responded with appropriate screening methods to keep infected workers from entering the job site and possibly infecting others.
This heightened concern around exposure has caused one of the more intangible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: the impact on workers’ mental health.
“[The COVID-19 pandemic] has caused anxiety and ripple effects throughout the entire economy,” shared Cal Beyer, vice president of workforce risk and worker wellbeing at CDSZ, a construction risk management firm. “One in 5 adults have a diagnosed mental health condition, and the pressures that we’re all under with sheltering at home … there's been very little separation between our work and our families. The boundaries have blurred — and the tensions that that’s causing.”
Beyer noted that prior to COVID-19, the industry was already addressing challenges with mental health, including suicide and substance abuse. NAHB was of the first groups to endorse the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, he added, and has been a leader in the charge for opioid use prevention.
So what can home builders do to address the stress and anxiety brought on by COVID-19?
“It’s important for construction companies and crews to take time-outs and just really check in — 'How's everyone doing?' — and think about what’s under the hard hat,” he recommended. “We bring our distractions to work, and those distractions can be catastrophic in serious injuries and fatalities, or quality defects. So it’s very important for us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
Both interviews are available in the video above. Click here for more mental health resources for home building professionals from NAHB.