OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – When considering risks associated with nuclear cleanup, many people would list radiation, chemicals or falling debris. While correct, an Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management cleanup contractor is taking another step to consider an additional important safety factor – the mental health of employees.
United Cleanup Oak Ridge (UCOR) has implemented a new program, titled Navigate, as a component to its behavioral, physical and mental health program. Navigate is designed to educate and assist employees through the development of trust, open communication and normalizing mental health conversations.
Mental health first aid training, which teaches participants how to identify and respond to signs of mental health issues, is in development and will be deployed across the work sites. It also will enable peer-to-peer identification of employees who may be experiencing issues.
“We are not only building a resiliency program to help strengthen mental health awareness company wide, but we are also creating a process to provide help to those who are in need of immediate mental health assistance via those who are closest to the point of care,” said Dr. Grant Shirley, UCOR’s occupational medical director.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates by population – about four times higher than the general population.
“Since UCOR’s work generally falls into the construction category, we want to ensure we are proactively providing our employees with the right set of tools to facilitate achieving a high level of mental wellness,” said Katie Pinkston, UCOR wellness coordinator.
The contractor is implementing this focus for its entire workforce, especially those who may have difficult circumstances at home.
“Mental, physical and behavioral health all play a role in total worker health,” Pinkston said. “If one of the areas is ignored, the other two may suffer.”
UCOR already has a robust physical wellness program called Elevate. However, to continually grow and challenge the status quo, leadership determined that a separate, related program was needed to specifically address mental health within the organization.
“We have a lot of activities planned that will get employees thinking and talking about mental health,” Pinkston said.
There are plans to offer numerous mental health resources that will provide awareness, training, and educational and engagement activities.
Additionally, UCOR is partnering with other organizations. Leadership recently traveled to Iowa to consult with a large, private construction company that has a long-running, well-established behavioral and mental health program.
The new Navigate program also joins other initiatives designed to provide a supportive work environment such as an Employee Assistance Program, Employee Concerns Program and employee recognition programs designed to emphasize the value of employees.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
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