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When people hear the term "wellness," they often think of physical wellness: sleeping eight hours a night, drinking 64 ounces of water a day and exercising for 30 minutes three times a week. Physical wellness is important, but it is only one dimension of overall wellness. Mental, social and emotional and spiritual conditions are key aspects of a person’s overall wellness.

Mental wellness involves always sharpening skills and committing to lifelong learning. It comes from a sense of inner responsibility to always finding ways to improve – increasing knowledge, asking critical questions, trying new things and advancing skill sets. social, emotional wellness focuses on keeping relationships and emotional well-being intact. It’s about conflict resolution, self-esteem and coping skills. Finally, spiritual wellness involves committing to something larger – participating in a faith community, volunteering to serve the common good, standing up for injustice or appreciating nature.

When implementing wellness into the construction industry, the conventional wisdom has been, "Don’t invest in it" or "It has little impact." These perceived challenges are exacerbated by the paradigm shared by American society: mental health issues are personal and taboo. Combine the cultural realities of the construction industry with the perceived financial challenges of investing in mental health and you get a recipe for disaster. It’s time to change the mindset.

As with any preventive maintenance process, wellness needs attention over the long haul. Unfortunately, when people are in crisis mode, wellness practices are often the first to go. And, just like when you neglect to change the oil in your car, the end cost is higher. When adversity hits, people will be in a much stronger position to maintain high performance, reframe disappointment and recover from trauma if they have reservoirs of resilience and mental health resources to rely on. Arguably, the preventive approach is the most effective way to save a greater number of lives from suicide.

Here are three case studies of employers who moved beyond awareness to action:

Case study by David James, CPA, CCIFP, CFO of FNF Construction, Inc.in Tempe, Arizona, a member of multiple AGC chapters.

"Make sure key executive positions are in support of the initiative.With the recent statistical data and the ‘zero accidents’ mentality of most construction executives, it is not a huge leap to ‘zero suicides.’ Safety and HR positions are key, as they represent the ‘front lines’ for communication. FNF began with posters and a newsletter article that was distributed to all employees to share resources and messages of hope, recovery and resilience. Just recently, two employees who were experiencing a personal crisis were identified and directed to resources that, prior to this initiative, very likely would never have been recognized."

Case study by Steve C. Tenney, CPA, chief financial officer of Story Construction in Ames, Iowa, a Master Builders of Iowa member.

"I used our health insurance and benefit enrollment meetings as the platform to break the silence. At the beginning of each meeting, I led a discussion about mental health and suicide prevention and told the group that I was bringing up the topic because ‘I care.’ It was a captive audience; they had to listen and fortunately they paid attention. The reality is you don’t get to leave your personal problems at the door when you show up for work, and, as an employer, we are trying to do a better job of increasing our awareness of events that impact our employees. We ask compelling questions, and it makes a difference: Do you know anyone in your family or group of friends who has suffered from some type of mental health issue?

Do you know anyone who has been impacted by suicide? If you had a chance to save one person’s life, would you be willing to help? I haven’t had three no’s yet."

Case study by Kyle F. Zimmer, Jr., LAP-C, health & safety, director and member assistance program, director from IUOE Local 478 in Hamden, Connecticut.

The peer support efforts have to start at the top, but you don’t have to look that far to find people to help. Many who have lived through life’s challenges are willing to step up and share their lessons learned. People in recovery want to give back. Training and confidentiality are critical to the success of the program. Peer support helps remove the stigma for people who are struggling. The reality is co-workers spend more time with each other than they do with their families and they talk – about football, their families, their problems. Our brothers and sisters need to be ready."

The demonstrated uniqueness of risk to the construction industry drives a need for specific and tailored metrics and program design. The standard wellness program metrics measure either biometric screening measures or "engagement" measures – or some blend of both. While the biometric screening measures of a cohort population can be extremely valuable in predicting future health risks and associated costs, these measures lack the insight to hidden risks of mental health issues for the construction industry. The construction industry’s unique risk profile demonstrates the clear need for the inclusion of mental health metrics and wellness program design innovation by the wellness vendor community.

Given the stakes, contractors can no longer afford to utilize the "standard" wellness program designs and litmus tests for efficacy. Rather, the construction industry must alter its approach to – and its expectations of – wellness program providers. Contractors like Barriere Construction in Metarie, Louisiana, a Louisiana AGC member, have led the way with changes to resources and configuration of their wellness program. "We have made significant changes and investments in our wellness program over the last several years," says Christopher Williams, Barriere’s director of administration and employee development. "We invested in on-site clinical resources (R.N.) for one reason: the health and wellness of our employees. While the impetus for the investment was initially the ‘physical health,’ we have come to realize the benefits of a front line resource in identifying mental health issues as well." Barriere relies on indicators such as "number of interactions per employee, per week/month with the on-site nurse. "In this way," says  illiams, "we are able to marry the data sets with the year-over-year biometric data to get a clearer picture of overall health – as opposed to strictly physical health."

Christian Moreno joined the Lockton Dunning Benefits team as vice president in 2011. With more than 16 years of experience, Christian specializes in designing health plans that are fully integrated with wellness solutions; helping employers manage the demand side of healthcare. As a clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, faculty member and survivor of her brother’s suicide, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas sees the issues of suicide prevention from many perspectives. Currently, she is the CEO and co-founder of the Carson J Spencer Foundation, a Denver-based organization leading innovation in suicide prevention. You may contact her at Sally@CarsonJSpencer.org.
Establishing a culture of safety takes more than having a good safety program. It takes a commitment to continuously improve worker safety and jobsite best practices. Come learn from some of the best in the industry on what they are doing to reduce the risk of jobsite incidents and protect their workforce. The AGC Safety Track is open to all registered Convention attendees. Click here for the full schedule.

Sessions and Events Include:
  • Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Awards Judging
  • Risk Management Principles that Reduce the Cost of Injury Litigation
  • Creating a Culture of Safety in Your Construction Firm through Effective Leadership
  • Primal Safety: How to Motivate Your People to Actually Implement Your Safety Program
  • Lean Safety: Improving Your Safety Culture with Lean Management Tools 
  • Applying Construction Safety Management Foundations to Enhance Quality Mgmt. Programs
  • Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Awards Breakfast – Ticketed Event, Limited Seating
  • Construction Safety Excellence Awards Judges’ Panel – Open Forum
  • Reception and Photo Shoot for Willis Towers Watson CSEA Winners - Invitation Only
Seventy-three percent of construction firms plan to expand their payrolls in 2017 as contractors expect private and public sector demand to grow in all market segments, according to survey results released recently by AGC of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate. Despite the general optimism outlined in Expecting a Post-Election Bump: The 2017 Construction Industry Hiring and Business Outlookmany firms report they remain worried about the availability of qualified workers and rising health and regulatory costs.

While overall economic conditions indicate 2017 should continue to be positive for the construction industry, association officials added that it appears the Outlook responses are based as much in high expectations for the incoming administration and the President-elect’s commitment to investing in infrastructure, improving federal health care laws and reducing regulatory burdens.

The association has crafted two plans to help guide the administration and Congress and ensure they act quickly to deliver on their election pledges. The first plan is the association’s Agenda to Rebuild Infrastructure and the Construction Workforce, which outlines a series of steps federal officials should take to finance and fund new infrastructure investments and accelerate federal reviews. The second plan identifies regulations and executive orders that new administration should cancel, improve or reconsider.

The Outlook was based on survey results from nearly 1,300 construction firms from 49 states and the District of Columbia. Varying numbers responded to each question. Contractors of every size answered over 30 questions about their hiring, workforce, business and information technology plans. Click here for Expecting a Post-Election Bump: The 2017 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook report. Click here for the survey results.
AGC's 98th Annual Convention 
March 7-9, 2017

Las Vegas, Nevada

Chapter News

Pictured from left are Jerry Nevlud, AGC Houston; Ben Johanneman and Jim Stevenson, McCarthy Building Co.; Mark Briggs, Joann Figueroa and Jim Shelton, OSHA.

Congratulations to McCarthy Building Co. on signing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration Strategic Partnership on December 14, 2016. The signing ceremony was officiated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Mark Briggs, OSHA Area Director, Houston South Office; Joann Figueroa, OSHA Area Director, Houston North Office; and Jim Shelton, Compliance Assistance Specialist, OSHA Houston North Area Office.

The official agreement between AGC Houston and OSHA was signed on Sept. 4, 2014 to formalize the "cooperative effort between these entities committed to encouraging construction companies to voluntarily improve their safety and health performance, providing methods to assist them in their efforts, and recognizing companies with exemplary safety and health programs." Stated Figueroa, "It’s an invaluable cooperative relationship between OSHA and the partners. We appreciate being part of the AGC Houston Safety Committee and commend McCarthy Building Company for qualifying for this partnership."

"This has been a long-standing partnership between the AGC and OSHA. There are not too many partnerships left in OSHA (in the United States) because the organization is moving more towards alliances. Having a relationship with OSHA and doing the right thing ... is important. We all benefit from sharing best practices information and solutions," Briggs added.

Other AGC Houston members that have signed an OSHA Strategic Partnership include:
  • Allstate Commercial Floors
  • Anslow Bryant Construction, Ltd.
  • W. S. Bellows Construction Corp.
  • Brookstone, LP
  • Gilbane Building Company
  • Keystone Concrete
  • Linbeck Group, LLC
  • McCarthy Building Co.
  • SpawGlass Construction Corp.
  • TAS Commercial Construction, LLC
  • Tellepsen
  • Trio Electric, Ltd.
AGC Houston member participation is voluntary and is available to companies that meet the program’s strict qualification requirements. The Partnership Agreement is in effect for five years, from 2014 through 2019.
Best Practices

Why is being heart healthy important for the construction industry? Direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total more than $316.6 billion. That includes health expenditures and lost productivity. At the same time, construction workers are increasingly overweight. The Centers for Disease Control notes that 71 percent of construction workers were either obese or overweight compared to 63 percent for all industries combined. Obesity increases the risk for injuries and illnesses, including heart disease.

What can be done? To help curb the trend, more emphasis is being placed on proactive measures with employers leading that charge. Traditionally, many organizations have focused on the total health of their population through safety programs, and/or separate wellness initiatives. It is time to take that one step further and integrate the two initiatives together to really impact the health of your workforce.

We typically find that wellness and safety programs operate in silos – human resources focuses on a wellness program in an effort to lower overall healthcare costs and the risk management team focuses on a safety program in an effort to lower workers’ compensation costs. Both areas work to protect the well-being of employees. In theory this sounds wonderful; however, the model fails to acknowledge that employees with chronic health conditions — for example obesity and heart disease — often have more frequent and costly workers’ compensation claims.

By breaking down the silos and integrating these initiatives, employers are in a much better position to realize effective and sustainable cost containment. If you still need a little convincing, consider these facts on obese workers from Gallup, Duke University Medical Center and TheStateOfObesity.org:

  • Number of work-related injuries are 25 percent higher
  • Workers’ compensation (WC) medical claims are 7x higher
  • Absenteeism increases by 10x for work injuries or illnesses

What are some ways that construction companies can combine efforts? Here are two quick examples:

  • Back Injury Prevention: A safety program can focus on ergonomic improvements and employee training related to proper body mechanics. The wellness piece will then focus on obesity reduction, which greatly increases the potential for a back injury and other medical complications. With a combination of these efforts, organizations can see a reduction in back injuries, which will result in lower claim costs and greater productivity.
  • High Blood Pressure and Stress: This impacts both safe behavior and decision making on the job, as well as significant health issues. This health issue can minimize the effectiveness of safety training and also spike use of healthcare services. Providing on-site dieticians or access to health consultants, and combining it with proper jobsite techniques will help in lowering stress.

Ensuring leadership is visible and leads by example is one of the largest factors in ensuring a combined safety and wellness effort is successful. This includes stressing the importance of preventative screenings to identify risks like heart disease and obesity. Another way is to incorporate both wellness and safety into the company culture. The philosophy of a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Employees need to feel ownership and see that your organization is serious about improving the health and well-being of the workforce, especially as it relates to heart disease.

Also, incorporate a varied communication approach to show how the program will benefit each employee individually. When workers are out on jobsites, communication remains critical.

Do not forget to define success. Since these programs are a long-term commitment, the value does not always impact the bottom line immediately. Most importantly, though, make wellness and safety fun by providing incentives and highlighting achievements.

Your construction company does not have to do this all on their own. Partner with groups like the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA hosts an event called Hard Hats for Hearts that specifically addresses heart risks within the construction industry and provides a networking platform for companies actively working to reduce those risks. The event raised over $430,000 in its inaugural year to help with funding programs and research. The AHA also has plenty of ways to get involved in their ‘Go Red’ campaign in February, which can be geared toward women in the construction industry.

Wellness programs are great for catching and mitigating a number of health-related issues and can be combined with safety initiatives to really make an impact. However, heart disease is one area in particular that needs to be called out. With construction leading or in the top sector of industries in terms of obesity, smoking and alcohol-abuse, it is time to really drive change.

Michael Alberico is a senior vice president and construction practice leader at Assurance, a member of multiple AGC chapters. He maintains a special focus on the construction and real estate industries, as well as alternative risk financing. With nearly 30 years of experience, Alberico’s primary responsibility is to provide a comprehensive and integrated health and risk management program that fully addresses risks while maintaining price sensitivity. Alberico graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.


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