Mental Health Options for Construction Workers

If you don’t have mental health support for your workers right now, start the conversation.

A working construction site.
A working construction site.
Local 18

We all know of the Fatal Four risks – but there’s a strong argument to be made that it should really be the Fatal Five. Long hours on site, extended time away from friends and family, and exposure to traumatic events are so common in our industry, and as we have learned while recently researching mental health options for our union members, they’re also key drivers of mental health risk.

Local 18 is the Ohio chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers. It is our job to ensure the operating engineers building the infrastructure that keeps our state running can also run as human beings, and stay above water in what has been proven to be one of the most stressful industries there is. 

When looking at mental health risks nationally, the suicide rate for those working in construction is 4 times higher than the general population, but this isn’t news for anyone who’s long worked in the sector, it’s instead become a sad forgone conclusion.

We recently found out firsthand why despite the widespread nature of the problem, it’s an incredibly challenging one to solve. After hearing from members and my own employees that mental health was rapidly becoming one of the greatest areas of need amongst our community, we set off on a journey to find better support and create our own mental health program.

While we finally landed on Wysa, an evidence-backed AI-guided chatbot that also offers human coaching support, we learned a lot along the way about the numerous considerations that have to be made when looking at mental health options in our sector.

Here’s what we learned when searching for better mental health support for our members:


The closest we could’ve gotten in the past to offering mental health support for our members and workforce would be through Employee Assistance Plans. We faced a problem here: not all of our members use the same insurance plan and we refused to deny care or offer mental health support options that would only apply if you happened to participate with the right insurer.

This really characterizes the state of mental health in our sector today. Once you get through the paperwork, the wait times and the general bureaucracy, you’re more stressed than you were when you started. It’s also challenging for individuals to convince themselves to take this step of self-care and agree they need mental health support to a degree that it’s worth undergoing this process. It demotivates people from seeking help and getting care early, and that seems like a core issue with industry standards around mental health.

As an industry, we need solutions that are always available, require no applications and paperwork, no wait times, and no other barriers to entry. We want all of our members to take care of themselves every day, not only when it’s gotten bad.  

We learned in looking at a variety of solutions and offerings on the market that having immediate access to care can come at a steep price. Some AI tools now lessen this barrier. Lookout for platforms that charge by the session for human coaching, which ultimately acts as a dissuasion mechanism for individuals needing this further support. Also, some focus exclusively on human coaching which is staggeringly expensive, while also being more difficult for people to schedule and access depending on where they were.

Data privacy and anonymity was another key consideration and one that I’d encourage others not to overlook. Our field has a history of a machismo culture and we knew that anonymity in any solution helps encourage uptake, as well as protect members’ privacy.

When providing mental health support, seek to hit a sweet spot of including always available, anonymous, clinically tested AI, along with unlimited human coaching.

Michael Bertolone speaks to Local 18 union members.Michael Bertolone speaks to Local 18 union members.Local 18

Clinical Safety and Liability

Offering support for mental health in our industry bears an incredible weight upon us all, because we understand it isn’t just about higher satisfaction at work or a better mindset, it’s also about preventing severe mental health risk like suicide.

Relief from yoga or breathwork apps is all good, but my workforce needs and deserves clinical-grade mental health care. They need support in the form of evidenced therapies and techniques. It’s not worth the cost of onboarding support nor the liability risk if it isn’t going to be serious and proven.

AI means there are a lot of new mental health tools on the market, but what we learned is they come with varying levels of research and clinical backing behind them. As we consulted with professionals in the field, we also learned it’s critical to make sure any program being offered has significant infrastructure for escalation or crisis response. There needs to be a clear set of actions that begin if any individual displays signs of severe risk.

My advice? Spend the time, dig deeply into the options on the market. We here at Local 18 formed a taskforce responsible for researching and compiling information on all the available tools out there which included background on how much clinical evidence each one had and what kind of escalation support they provided.

Start Somewhere

As part of a union, our jobs exist to ensure that professionals in our field are supported and I can tell you right now, one of the biggest issues they’re struggling with today is mental health. It’s a hard problem to solve but one that we simply cannot ignore. We owe it to our colleagues, to the kids coming into the industry next, and to the families of professionals in the field to tackle it.

If you don’t have mental health support for your workers right now, start the conversation. Find out what they would want, speak to leaders in your organization about how the process can be started and look into solutions.

What we discovered in our search was that a myriad of new technologies and solutions are available, and it’s up to us to take a step forward, vet them and start providing care for our workforce.