The Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest (HWC), directed by Diane Rohlman, recently entered into an Alliance Agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Federal Region VII to address behavioral health, which includes mental health and substance use, in the workplace.
“Mental health is a personal issue, a family issue, a societal issue, and a work issue,” says Rohlman, professor of occupational and environmental health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. “That’s why mental health needs to be part of the safety conversation in U.S. workplaces.”
The agreement establishes a collaborative relationship to provide employers and the public with information and training resources that will help protect workers by reducing and preventing exposure to workplace hazards and addressing behavioral health issues, according to Rohlman.
Specific initiatives under the agreement include working with employers to create guidelines for workplace behavioral health policies and raising awareness of behavioral health in the workplace through informal worksite presentations (e.g., Toolbox Talks), outreach activities, and other media.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the rate is increasing. Workers in certain occupations, including construction, are at elevated risk compared with rates in the general population.
Construction workers are 5 times more likely to die by suicide than all other construction fatalities combined. All levels of the construction workforce are at increased risk of suicide, from laborers to skilled trades to management. Possible contributing factors include family separation and isolation due to travel, injuries and chronic pain that is associated with opioid use, stress related to seasonal work and long hours, and shift work.
The agreement with OSHA, Rohlman says, stemmed from her work as a policy fellow in the CPH’s Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy, which focused on developing workplace mental health policies for rural employers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the way people live and work. This has led to greater mental health challenges for workers in all industries,” says Rohlman. “Our new partnership with OSHA will expand the work of the Healthier Workforce Center to promote safety, health, and well-being — which will benefit both the workers and the employers.”