Safety

Focus on Cardiovascular Health for Construction Worker Wellbeing

Help employees maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid CVD by contributing to worker well-being.
By Tyra Damm and Cal Beyer
June 21, 2022
Topics
Safety

The demands of construction field work create troubling risk factors for cardiovascular health.

Consider long commutes, difficulty creating a workout routine, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation and muscular-skeletal injuries that lead to chronic pain. On top of that, there is a higher incidence of tobacco use among construction workers, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Why Cardiovascular Health is Vital for Construction Workers

The American Heart Association reports that 25% of construction workers are obese, 25% use tobacco, almost half don’t get enough exercise and one in 25 have diabetes. These risk factors point to the importance of creating healthy workplaces for these essential workers.

Cardiovascular disease is a chronic health condition that may occur with other health conditions, including depression, diabetes and chronic musculoskeletal disorders. The consequences of cardiovascular disease affect more than the quality and longevity of life for workers. Families are impacted when CVD results in long-term disability or premature death, creating irrevocable effects including grief and economic hardship. Coworkers and employers also experience human and financial consequences in terms of lost productivity, increased health care costs, and replacement of disabled or deceased workers.

American Heart Association Hardhats with Heart Program

The American Heart Association has been working to help the construction industry understand the prevalence of cardiovascular health risk factors with the Hard Hats with Hearts initiative, active in over two dozen cities across the United States.


The industry is taking notice. For example, Brasfield & Gorrie, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is expanding its heart health programs and education. Brasfield & Gorrie is providing clinically eligible employees access to Omada Health, which offers prevention programs to help manage and control their blood pressure. “If we can keep an employee with pre-hypertension from progressing to hypertension, we are making a huge impact in their well-being and safety,” says Sally Stewart, senior wellness administrator for Brasfield & Gorrie. “We are also placing blood pressure cuffs on all our jobsites and offices and helping employees understand blood pressure readings.”

Allan Myers, headquartered in Worcester, Pennsylvania, is another company that has expanded health and wellness coaching. Executive Vice President Bob Herbein highlighted that the company invested in four onsite health coaches, whose services are free to employees and spouses. The coaches offer guidance on nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress and smoking cessation. Coaching sessions also include regular blood pressure checks. Coaches also offer education on targeted monthly topics including heart health, hydration and diabetes. The company also provides free annual onsite biometric screenings with a 92% participation rate. Herbein says “this is part of the company’s commitment to the health and complete wellness of the employees and their families including a focus on mental wellness.”

Interstates, a specialty industrial electrical and factory automation contractor based in Sioux Center, Iowa, embraced a “whole worker” approach to employee well-being. Interstates offers free biometric screening to provide personalized health and wellness education for health benefit plan participants. Interstates also offers a smoking cession program and a discounted weight loss coaching program.

Danielle Crough, vice president of people and culture at Interstates, says the company has “partnered with a claims analytics team to review claims history across medical, dental, disability, EAP and workers compensation trends.” The company’s goal is to identify areas of risk to make informed decisions on resources to support and encourage better engagement. Crough emphasized the importance of ensuring confidentiality of personal health information by using aggregated and deidentified claims data.

Action Employers Can Take in the Workplace and on Jobsites

Despite the many factors that place construction workers at risk, there are variables that can be adjusted to help workers live healthier and longer. And there are steps industry leaders can take to help educate and prevent cardiovascular problems among craft workers, including the following.

  • Offer adult and infant CPR training in your organization to demonstrate commitment to heart health and increase the odds of survival in case of sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Consider the benefits of providing automated external defibrillators (AED) at jobsites to expedite resuscitation until emergency first responders arrive on scene.
  • Encourage healthy eating with nutritious food choices in vending machines and heart-healthy snacks and beverages during meetings.
  • Initiate a workplace warmup program focusing on dynamic movement of large muscle groups rather than static stretch and flex programs.
  • Institute a biometric health screening program to help employees and dependents on health benefit programs learn their vital numbers for preventive health.
  • Analyze health benefit claims data to pinpoint areas of concern in the health and well-being of workers.
  • Ensure cessation programs include all forms of tobacco, including vaping.
  • Participate in a regional Hard Hats with Heart initiative to learn more about incorporating heart health and CVD prevention into the company’s occupational health, safety, and wellness program.
  • Share information with employees and dependents about blood pressure reduction and heart disease and stroke prevention, including risk factors and warning signs for and how to seek help in medical emergencies.

There is truth in Benjamin Franklin’s adage “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” CVD may often be prevented through a healthy lifestyle, and employers can help by contributing to worker well-being.

by Tyra Damm
Tyra Damm is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas. She has been a longtime contributor to the Blue Book Building and Construction Network. Contact Tyra at [email protected].

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