Mental Health in Construction Industry

Construction health

 A programme to tackle awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction industry has been launched by the British Safety Council.

Employee health and wellbeing – ‘mates’ campaign for building site mental health

The construction sector has long been something of a health and safety black spot, which can mean the focus when it comes to health and wellbeing is often on physical injury and illness.

But that shouldn’t mean mental ill-health gets overlooked, which is why the British Safety Council has launched a campaign Mates in Mind specifically to raise awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction industry.

The programme has been put together by the council in partnership with the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG).

The aim is to give managers the tools, information and training to make construction a healthier workplace.

It is also intended that the programme will help to break down some of the stigma and taboo associated with mental health within construction – although the industry is by no means unusual in this – and to help managers begin conversations with staff about their mental wellbeing.

The campaign is being supported by a range of leading mental health charities, such as Mind, Samaritans and Mental Health First Aid England.

It has also got cross-industry support, from British Occupational Hygiene Society, Build UK, the Construction Industry Training Board, the Health and Safety Executive, the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, among others.

Health versus health and safety

The council’s chief executive Mike Robinson said: “Approximately one-sixth of the 2.1 million construction workers in the UK are likely to be suffering from a mental health issue at any one point in time; a figure based on research by ONS. It’s a shocking statistic. Even more shocking is the fact that in the construction sector, people are 10 times more likely to die by suicide than from on-site accidents.”

He also articulated the common disparity in focus between health (especially mental health) and health and safety within the sector, arguing that, like many, “historically, we’ve shouted safety and whispered health”.

Steve Hails, director of health, safety and wellbeing at construction firm Tideway, an executive member of the HCLG and chair of Mates in Mind, outlined how the programme will work in practice.

“The Mates in Mind programme is a single, consistent programme for the construction industry, designed in response to its expectations and requirements,” he said.

“At the heart of it is a three-tier approach, starting with 45-minute general awareness training for operatives that will begin the conversation about mental health. Its third most advanced form is a two-day programme to train volunteer mental health champions who will support workers suffering from mental ill health. We are looking for 100% support from the industry for this initiative,” he added.

Isolation and self-employment

What, then, is the message here employers, especially construction sector employers, should be taking away?

The first is Mike Robinson’s shouting versus whispering comment. Clearly it is good and only right to focus on health and safety, given the industry’s track record.

But it shouldn’t be an either/or scenario – general health and wellbeing and mental health and wellbeing both need to be on the industry’s agenda much more.

Within this, account needs to be taken of how the industry works and is structured. There is a lot of self-employment within the industry, and a lot of casual and transient working.

This can mean not only that support structures can be lacking but if, for example, someone is off work for a physical injury or ailment, there are going to be immediate psychological, emotional and financial worries that accompany that.

It can be a peripatetic lifestyle, moving from building site to building site, sometimes with unsociable hours, which can lend itself to issues such as poor diet but also isolation.

To that end, giving managers and supervisors the tools to recognise mental health concerns (and potential triggers), to open conversations and know where to go to access help and support is all valuable.

There could also be mileage in offering access to a tool such as an EAP. Access to this sort of confidential counselling and support can allow individuals to discuss their anxieties and concerns in a “safe” (in other words non-judgemental) environment.

That, in itself, can often be valuable, both simply in terms of allowing people to open up and express their feelings, but also to allow them to recognise there may be an actual health issue or problem here and it’s not just about them being “weak” or somehow not coping when everyone else appears to be.

More than that, given the focus Mates in Mind has on education and training, an EAP can also be a useful resource for managers in terms of how to approach and manage these situations, and guidance on when and how to refer someone on to more specialist provision.

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Posted in News,Occupational health by OH Assist on the 20th April 2017

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