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By Mary Lou Jay for Building Washington Magazine

For over 30 years, ABC has helped contractors protect the physical safety of their employees on the jobsite through the STEP Safety Management System. Now the association is expanding on STEP with the introduction of the Total Human Health Initiative, or THHI. THHI “encompasses actions, initiatives and policies that emphasize the health, well-being and livelihoods of workers … [it incorporates] a whole-person approach to engage a person’s body, mind, heart and soul.”

THHI grew out of the construction industry’s recognition of the high rate of suicide among its workers. “Construction workers are five times more likely to die by suicide than they are from any work-related accident,” said Frank Trujillo, vice president of risk management at Miller & Long Co., Inc. and chair of ABC’s national Health and Safety Committee.

While safety professionals have always been focused on preventing people from getting hurt at work, they are now paying more attention to the other types of problems that workers may be dealing with at home and on the job. They understand that when workers do not get the necessary help with these issues, the results can be tragic. “Many industry professionals either know someone who died by suicide or had to get help to prevent that from happening,” said Trujillo.

ABC’s Health and Safety Committee appointed a subcommittee dedicated specifically to addressing suicide prevention. But as the subcommittee members began their work, they realized that they needed to broaden their assignment and address total human health. “The subcommittee members went from an awareness of suicide to a deep dive into mental health to a focus on overall human wellness. It was a cascading issue,” Trujillo said.

Toolkit Provides Roadmap to Wellness

The people who developed THHI included construction industry and safety professionals and mental health professionals. The committee members referenced resources like the National Institutes of Health’s Emotional Wellness Toolkit, and information from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The results of their efforts can be found on ABC’s Total Human Health Initiative ( resources page. The page has links to materials that companies can use during Suicide Prevention Month in September, such as posters, social medial toolkits and toolbox talks. The page also provides links to articles and resources that companies can share with their workers.

In the Total Human Health Resources for Leadership section, companies will find a comprehensive toolkit developed specifically for this program as well as an assessment they can use to determine where they are on the road to promoting total human health.

The toolkit covers the four categories of THHI:

  • Heart, which includes emotional and social wellness;
  • Body, which covers physical wellness;
  • Soul, which relates to spiritual and community wellness; and
  • Mind, which includes intellectual, occupational, mental and environmental wellness.

The toolkit contains suggested activities that companies can use to encourage conversations about each area with small groups of employees or with the entire company. It provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for toolbox talks, workshops and helping employees create their own personal wellness toolkits.

Trujillo said that, while the toolkit is long, there is no fluff in it. “The toolkit really drills down on each one of those elements and provides actionable products that companies can immediately take out in the field and implement with their employees,” he said.

The Total Human Health Assessment provides a way for contractors to measure how far they have progressed (or need to progress) in each of THHI’s four categories. It lists questions that companies should ask themselves, and provides four scoring categories: “Not on our radar,” “Planning phase,” Under construction,” and “Fully integrated.” It also provides specific steps that companies can take to improve their performance and move up the scale.

Integral to STEP

ABC has introduced THHI in its STEP safety self-assessment this year so that members can familiarize themselves with the program and evaluate where they need to improve. ABC will not count THHI scores toward a rating of Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Bronze or Participant this year, but starting in 2024 the association will count them in the STEP scoring.

Trujillo believes that the industry is ready for THHI. Company leaders often tell him about people they have lost or people they did not realize had problems. Although discussions about these human health concepts may be uncomfortable for some construction workers at first, he believes companies will find ways to bring them into the workplace.

“I am amazed every year at how creative they are at getting these kinds of things done. The major lift we have from the perspective of ABC and the industry as a whole is to bring total human health front and center and make it a must-have rather than a nice-to-have,” he said.

Trujillo also noted that the comprehensive resources developed by the THH Subcommittee has sparked a conversation about improving the other components of the STEP program. “Our goal is to expand the rest of STEP to have these equally useful guides that can move people along in other safety categories,” he said.

Encouraging Implementation

Members of ABC of Metro Washington may find some assistance with THHI implementation at the monthly meetings of the chapter’s Safety Professional Peer Group. The group, which is open to everyone, meets to discuss key components of the STEP program, which will now include THHI. Each meeting focuses on a different topic, but there is also open networking and discussion time where attendees can ask questions and share resources and information about THHI and other health and safety issues.

One possible resource for employees could be a list of mental health providers that accept their company’s health insurance. (Miller & Long is already doing this.) Having this information readily available can reduce stress and save time for someone who is need of assistance.

ABC’s traveling Safety Academies will also be covering THHI, and it is likely to be a topic at ABC National and chapter meetings this year. “It will take a little bit of time, but THHI is going to be a mainstream topic of discussion,” Trujillo said

“I think this is the issue of our time and of my career,” he added. “Safety has always been something that we have focused on and we have done great things. But this side of the house has been neglected. An industry that is trying to find its future in the labor market must think about how we are going to attract folks. You cannot get there without addressing these issues, without letting people know that you care about them.”