The following is a guest post from Gordon Childress, executive vice president and general manager for the California division of Skanska Building USA.
As builders, we are often tasked with creating new facilities — whether a hospital, science lab, airport or university building — that improve a community's quality of life and contribute to its overall wellbeing. What is sometimes overlooked in our line of work, however, is that construction is a physically demanding job that comes with many safety risks of its own.
One risk that is not often talked about but persists throughout the industry is the significant percentage of workers who experience heart disease in their lifetimes. Currently, one in four construction workers have high blood pressure and are at high risk for diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
This issue can sometimes be attributed to hereditary reasons, but poor diet and exercise habits among us are also to blame. These damaging lifestyle choices are considered the norm, but they have led to even more deaths on jobsites due to heart attacks.
Personally, I come from a family that has experienced challenges related to heart health — from diabetes to high blood pressure, to high cholesterol and more. My father experienced a stroke and I am a pre-hypertension candidate. The issue of heart health is close to me both professionally and personally, and I know that the persistence of heart issues across construction does not need to be the reality.
As we observe American Heart Month, we as an industry should revisit the role we can play in the livelihoods of our teams and ensure we are implementing programs and strategies that ensure heart health for the many men and women who dedicate their careers to construction.
Education is key
One of the first steps in improving heart health across our industry is education. In the simplest terms, you do not know what you do not know. Only by increasing awareness of health risks and scheduling regular doctor’s visits can you gain the insights and strategies needed to take better care of your body and your health.
Construction companies play an important role in this dynamic. To provide their workforce with critical information on long-term health, employers can host regular healthcare and wellness education sessions, distribute materials with user-friendly information on heart health and actions individuals can take or offer incentives for employees to ensure they are monitoring their health, such as exercise challenges or wellness competitions. The list goes on. Making these processes as seamless and effortless as possible is key, as it can lead to increased attendance, adoption and retention.
Companies should also make sure their education efforts are reaching everyone on their teams. Men and women of all ages, races and backgrounds, whether primarily stationed on project sites or in the office, should understand the resources available to them — heart issues don't discriminate and can affect anyone.
Partner with industry-leading organizations
Companies should not try to address the issue of heart health on their own. There are countless organizations available that dedicate their time, resources and expertise to improving heart health in communities. Partnering with organizations like the American Heart Association or the Red Cross empowers construction firms with the resources needed to make real, lasting change.
For instance, the AHA delivered its hypertension resources in partnership with Milpitas, California-based contractor XL Construction and El Camino Health to address high blood pressure. To further incentivize employees to participate and learn to take their own blood pressure, they were offered a free lunch by their employer.
Ultimately, more than 800 workers were trained in blood pressure monitoring. The program also revealed that 72% of participants were hypertensive. Encouragingly, over half of employees — 55 percent to be exact — used the AHA’s online tracker and 17% of participants lowered their blood pressure following the program.
Once you have laid the foundation with employee education and heart health-focused programs, leaders in the construction industry need to keep their teams engaged. While it may not always be easy, I challenge you to take up the task.
Host a Heart Healthy Challenge — whether companywide or across your local offices — to keep your employees' health top of mind.
Replace junk food and sugary sodas with heart-healthy snacks and sugar-free drinks at construction sites and offices, enabling your employees to maintain healthier diets.
Keep wellness in mind when choosing employee gifts.
Promote easy-to-use apps, such as the AHA’s My Life Check, that helps busy employees keep track of their health on the go.
Now let’s get to work.