Behavioral Health & Workplace Safety in the Construction Industry
by Nick Hanzel-Snider
Imagine you’re at work – an office, warehouse, factory, construction site, or what have you – and a co-worker is experiencing a medical emergency. It could be an injury from a fall, signs of a heart attack, etc. Do you know what to do? Does your organization have a plan for dealing with accidents and emergencies? Likely you know at least two key actions to take: stabilize the situation and call 9-1-1.
But what if the emergency involves someone’s behavioral rather than physical health. Would you feel prepared? Are you training leaders and managers to equip them with the knowledge and skills to respond safely and effectively in such situations?
Turner Construction – A Leader in Behavioral Healthcare
That is exactly what Turner Construction – New England has been working with MindWise to do. As a leader in the construction industry, Turner has long emphasized the importance of health and safety in its workforce. Managers and foremen are routinely trained in how to respond to physical injuries and incidents. But in recognizing the need to go beyond the physical to include mental health and substance use issues as part of workplace safety, Turner is on the cutting edge of what it means to be a responsible employer in the twenty-first century.
Turner first partnered with MindWise in 2019 to learn how the company could best support its workforce and make behavioral health a priority. The development of the Protocol for Behavioral Health Critical Incident Response is the natural continuance of that work. Its importance is both practical and symbolic. First and foremost it’s a tool to help keep employees safe and healthy while simultaneously promoting productivity and employee well-being. But its formation is also a vital step forward in workplace recognition of the importance of behavioral healthcare.
What Exactly Is A Behavioral Health Incident Protocol?
Paired with a two-part safety training, the Protocol is a tangible tool for Turner’s managers and leaders to help navigate crisis situations involving mental health or substance use. It’s a set of guidelines based on best practices to respond to behavioral health-related incidents.
To start, the BH Protocol teaches what behavioral health is and why it’s so important to address at work. It introduces the concept of psychological safety and how to use a trauma-informed approach to create a safe working environment for all employees. After highlighting the vital importance of self-care for managers and site leaders, the Protocol goes on to give practical step-by-step guides for responding to crisis situations involving mental health and/or substance use.
The Protocol itself is the “what” – what to do in situations involving panic attacks, increased depression or suicide risk, substance use, and anger/rage reactions. The training is the “how” – how to put the lessons of the protocol into practice.
A Fundamental Change
Bringing mental health and substance use under the same umbrella as safety has the potential to significantly impact how the construction industry as a whole conceptualizes safety. By making behavioral health a priority and putting in the hard work necessary to look after the whole person – physical and behavioral – of each employee, MindWise and Turner are setting a standard that will hopefully spread across the industry and eventually permeate to other sectors.
A key feature of the BH Protocol is that despite much of it being customized for the construction industry in general and Turner specifically, the bulk of the information it contains can apply to many other businesses and organizations. MindWise’s goal is to further develop the Protocol for more industries and workplaces, always striving to do so within the context of an organization’s existing safety procedures.