VICTORIA -- The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with substance abuse and addiction is taking a toll on those working in the construction industry.

In British Columbia, a new program hopes to help many of those workers deal with mental health challenges.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) has launched its new ICBA Workplace Wellness Program, which is designed specifically to help those in the construction industry seeking help.

The association says the risk of suicide for those working in construction is seven times higher than the national average.

According to statistics in a 2018 BC Coroners report, more than half of the employed people who have died due to overdoses during the opioid crisis worked in the trades and transport sector.

The ICBA Wellness Program has been developed specifically for the construction industry with the support of leading experts on mental health. The ICBA says the program is designed to create lasting change.

“Our program is designed to break down the stigma and it’s a year-long program,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

“Everything is focused on the construction worker, so the images, the graphics, the topics, the language, is in simple nugget-sized bits of information that can be conveyed easily.”

Gardner adds that it’s not just about issues related to drug use or suicide, but more of a holistic approach that covers a whole host of challenges that people who are struggling may be facing.

While there are a lot of resources to help safeguard and improve mental wellness, not many of them are tailored to construction workplaces and workforces, according to the ICBA.

“There’s a stigma about talking about mental wellness,” said Gardner. “People feel embarrassed, they feel awkward, they fear social repercussions, maybe professional repercussions by coming forward and saying, ‘Hey I’m struggling, I’m needing help.’ And as a result, when these challenges do surface, they can have devastating impacts on individuals, families and communities.”

Some of the topics covered range from respectful workplaces to physical health, suicide prevention, diversity and inclusion, depression, anxiety and pain avoidance and addictions.

The Workplace Wellness Program is offered to ICBA member companies free of charge and was made possible by the support of Canada Life, one of ICBA’s key group health benefits providers.

Founded 46 years ago, in 1975, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association has grown into an association representing more than 3,300 members and clients, together employing close to 100,000 people. It offers training programs that put a high priority on worker safety, and ICBA’s Workplace Wellness Program is the next step in that effort, according to the association.

“It’s really about starting that conversation and having people who may be struggling understand that support and resources are there,” said Gardner. He adds that it’s also about having others understand and recognize the signs when a colleague is struggling, being able to support them and point them in the right direction for help.

To find out more, visit the ICBA website here.

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Island Construction Association launched a similar program to help address addictions among local workers.