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February 21, 2024

Jobsite safety is big, but what about workers' cardiovascular health?

  • Several cardiovascular disease risk factors are prevalent in the construction industry.
  • By MARK HOWELL
    Skanska

    Heart disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, with stroke ranking second. Among construction workers in the United States, 211,000 (1 in 25) have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

    Once someone has a heart attack, it can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to recover. This has a big impact not only on their life, but the life of their family.

    RISK FACTORS

    Working in the construction industry can be demanding, and there are certain risk factors and routines that aren't conducive to maintaining heart health. Several risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease are also prevalent in the construction industry:

    • Obesity. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater: 1 in 4 construction workers are obese.

    • Tobacco use. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.: 1 in 4 construction workers use tobacco.

    • Lack of exercise. Lack of activity is a key risk factor for both heart disease and stroke: Nearly half of all construction workers don't get enough exercise.

    • Diabetes. Diabetes increases a person's risk of cardiovascular diseases: 1 out of 25 construction workers have diabetes.

    REDUCING THE RISK

    There are ways for construction workers to live a healthy lifestyle and lower their risk of heart disease and heart attack.

    • Maintain a healthy weight. Individuals who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for heart disease.

    • Put out the cigarettes. If you don't smoke, don't start smoking. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.

    • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can provide a wide array of benefits, including helping you maintain a healthy weight, and lowering your blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or biking, is recommended every week.

    • Adopt a healthy diet. Eating foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol can lower cholesterol. Limiting salt, sugar and alcohol can also lower blood pressure.

    PROTECTING WORKERS' HEARTS

    I've been with Skanska for 36 years, and I've seen firsthand how important it is to prioritize the health and well-being of our people. Construction requires physical work, so it's important to take care of yourself. If you're not getting regular annual physicals, health issues can go undetected for years.

    I have a family history of heart disease, so I've actively monitored my heart health for years. This topic is extremely important to me, and leading the Hard Hats with Heart campaign with the American Heart Association allows me to make an impact in bringing heart health, blood pressure and stroke awareness to workers in the construction industry.

    At Skanska, we implemented a variety of programs to address heart health amongst our workers, including bringing the blood pressure challenge to many of our project sites, hosting stress relief trainings, participating in the American Heart Association Heart Walk and the Move More Challenge, and sending out monthly heart awareness emails.

    We are also helping workers understand the value of bringing their own food to the jobsite and encouraging access to healthy foods on-site. Building awareness is the first step to maintaining heart health.

    It's been amazing to see workers become more heart aware and make real life changes, like cutting out sugary energy drinks, stopping smoking, watching their diets and making appointments with their doctors to check out their heart health.

    PRIORITIZING HEART HEALTH

    Cardiovascular disease can take years, and sometimes even decades, to develop, which means we still have time to make an impact and lower the risk of heart disease amongst our workforce. I'm proud of what we've accomplished at Skanska, but our journey to heart health is ongoing.

    Raising awareness around this issue is the first step, and implementing even small initiatives can have huge impacts. I encourage all construction companies to implement programs that support employees throughout their heart health journey.

    Mark Howell is senior vice president and account manager at Skanska in Seattle.



    
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