As part of FCA International’s efforts to increase awareness among employers about mental health and suicide prevention in the construction industry, I intended to provide an update on the IUPAT Helping Hand program at the recent International Leadership Council where signatory contractor leaders gathered to gain information to enhance their businesses. Unfortunately, recent knee surgery from the result of a fall prevented me from traveling. Therefore, this blog will serve as that update.

You might remember that I introduced the IUPAT Helping Hand initiative at the 2020 FCA International Leadership Council in San Antonio, Texas. Even with the pandemic these past two years, a great deal of progress has happened with the Helping Hand initiative.

The IUPAT Helping Hand Program is available to IUPAT members and all of FCA’s signatory employers: that means you. Its purpose is to provide education, training and resources regarding substance use disorder, suicide prevention and mental health awareness; and ultimately enable members and employees to provide a helping hand to those living with these issues. Too often many of us have been ill-equipped to help those living with these issues.

There are many resources available to you and your employees. First, check out all the resources at Second, a champion has been selected in each District Council that is committed to being a local Helping Hand resource. Most of these individuals have experienced these issues personally, or they have been impacted by the experience of a family member. Most of these champions have completed the “Mental Health First Aid” and “Changing the Culture in Construction” courses offered through the LMCI.

Each champion has also committed to completing 10 steps of implementation for the Helping Hand initiative. Most areas have implemented nearly 80% of these 10 steps. The biggest barrier to implementation so far has been step #4 which says, “Establish a labor/management committee, including an employer representative to co-chair the committee, to be responsible for developing action plans, managing the processes and building the District Council IUPAT Helping Hand program.” We need contractors like you to expand awareness and implementation of this program. Reach out to your local BM/ST to learn how you can help implement this program in your area to further enhance the local resources available to you and your employees.

Look at it this way: if one of your employees has a mental health issue, having suicidal thoughts or is living with an untreated mental illness or substance use disorder, they are a potential safety hazard for your company. In the United States, 20% of adults live with a mental illness, and 10% of adults live with substance use disorder. The construction industry has more suicide deaths than any other industry.

This is not a union problem, nor it is an employer problem: it’s an industry problem. One side cannot fix this alone. Our industry needs all parties to get involved in addressing this. Many years ago, the construction industry had a safety problem with excessive fatalities and major accidents. These were just considered regular risks that came with the job. Representatives from labor and management came together and said “We can’t accept this. We need to change.” Led by the collaboration between labor and management, our industry made worker safety a priority, and it became a better industry as a result. Now’s the time for us to use the same approach for mental health, suicide prevention and substance use disorder.

In addition to joining with your local District Council champion, consider having one of your employees take the two-day “Change the Culture of Construction” course offered in Hanover, MD by the LMCI. To date, 48 IUPAT members have taken this course in person, and an additional 86 IUPAT members have taken the course online. The LMCI is also offering a two-plus day “Peer Supporter Services Training” course in Hanover, MD. This course is designed to turn the participant into a “Peer Supporter,” who will be a trusted and trained resource for your company and local area that your employees in need can reach out to.