Construction workers were already suffering from opioid abuse and struggling to deal with mental health problems when Covid-19 added another major stressor.

But many sizable, mid-sized contractors are left to their own devices when dealing with these risks to both the health and safety of their workers and their overall productivity and the bottom line.

Insurer Liberty Mutual, one of the largest providers of workers’ compensation insurance and other insurance policies for the construction industry, has teamed up with a major mental health contractor to offer mid-sized contractors an employee assistance program as an endorsement to the company’s workers’ compensation policies.

Under the agreement with Magellan Healthcare, Liberty Mutual is now offering middle market construction contractors who have workers’ comp policies through Liberty the option of coverage that provides a range of counseling, substance abuse and other services to their employees.

The target market is companies with 1,000 employees or less, which according to Liberty’s research are unlikely to offer their own employee assistance program or at least have access to a robust one that might exist at a larger company.

“Contractors understand the direct link between stress, employee productivity and business performance,” says Liberty Mutual’s construction executive for distribution, Ben Beauvais. “That’s why we found overwhelming buyer and broker interest in accessing an EAP through a workers compensation carrier as we developed the offering.”

However, as Beauvais and Ryan Powers, Liberty Mutual’s Northeast division underwriting manager for construction, explain, the insurer began drafting plans for the coverage before the coronavirus crisis hit, amid the fallout from the opioid addiction crisis.

As a high-risk, high-stress field in which injuries can lead to the use and abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, the construction industry has seen a surge in job-site overdoses over the past few years, according to a study released in early 2020.

The report by the Center for Construction Research and Training found 65 unintentional overdose fatalities in 2018, up from 48 the year before and a total of seven in 2011.

“This journey started well before the coronavirus,” Powers says. “We felt the opioid crisis was so widespread but had particularly hard in the construction space.”

“I have certainly heard stories from our insureds about addicted employees who have come back and vandalized property, and CFOs and risk managers that have had to bury employees,” Powers adds. “There are no worse circumstances than that.”

After the pandemic hit, the two Liberty Mutual construction insurance executives and other team members did a quick reevaluation of whether to push ahead with the program.

“This is so much more than about opioid addiction,” Powers says. “Those stresses are more impactful than they have ever been.”

Liberty Mutual’ recently began offering the employee assistance program at a reduced rate. Services include coaching and counseling for workers dealing with various mental health and substance abuse issues, not to mention financial and legal challenges, among other things.

While the insurance company declined to detail its rates, Liberty Mutual’says it was able to negotiate with Magellan lower rates given the size of its portfolio, with 700 mid-sized construction firms with an average of 300 employees each.

The insurer says it does not expect immediate returns from its rollout, but that it is more about adding value for its base of workers’ comp clients.

“I am not sure how much of a windfall on the business side we can get from this,” Powers says. “It’s more of a goodwill offering. If it generates (more revenue), the bigger the win if that happens.”

But there are also longer-term synergies that could work to reduce costs on both the insurer’s side and the insureds as well.

“This is very attractive from an underwriter’s perspective,” Powers said. “Those kinds of buyers are good kinds of risk, the ones we want to underwrite.”