‘In construction, more workers die by suicide than by falls’
(mates in mind)
As a health and safety professional, my primary concern is not profit & loss or project completion dates, but the health and safety of those in construction. As cheesy as it sounds (and you might roll your eyes) I care about people.
I used to think I was doing all I can and the right things to make a difference, until I read the stat at the top of the page. How as a health and safety consultant, was I not aware that mental health and suicide was having such a big impact for those on site?
Luckily, while attending an on-site health and safety meeting the safety officer brought up the completion of ‘mental health first aid course’ which was the first thing that got me interested in researching this subject. A few days later an article was published in the IOSH magazine which identified ‘Mates in Mind’ as a new programme being rolled out to site to help bring awareness to this issue on site. I have not looked back since.
The first thing people think of when health and safety is mentioned in construction is risk assessments and PPE, I believe that it is time this role changed and developed. Given the seriousness of this topic, we can no longer just concern ourselves with physical hazards and documentation. We need to be doing more for health and not just safety. How may risk assessments identify wellbeing issues as being hazards?
In 2015, there was 43 deaths as a result from work place accidents…….in that same year, 454 construction works committed suicide (office of national statistics). As a health and safety professional, and a human, this stat is pretty devastating. Considering this stat is from three years ago, how many of us are aware of the problem?
Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and excessive anger are all mental health issues that are common place on a construction site, at all levels, senior management to labourer.
So why has health been left so far behind safety in regard to knowledge, controls and awareness. Well I suppose we could ask how many of the 454 construction suicides in construction in 2015 resulted in any kind of criminal or civil law suits? I am going to take a guess at none? If fact, I haven’t heard of any company being taken to court over the suicide of one of their employees. It is of course very hard to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that a company is solely responsible for an employee suicide.
But I would like to think that unlike the safety aspects of workplace activities that can have heavy financial implications (supported by the HASWA) companies do have moral reasons to look after their employees.
I do believe that within the construction industry, a lack of understanding of mental health issues plays a hefty role in the attitude.
As I have previously discussed, construction is a very male dominated industry. The culture is to just carry on, keep going, don’t talk about it, it will go away eventually. It is harder for men to open up and seek help, it is not historically how these things are dealt with.
Are our construction sites doing enough to provide healthy workplace environments mental health?
Working hours have always been a concern to me. Part of being an external H&S consultant is that I am unaffected by company influences. When I attend site, I am focusing on one thing, the health, safety and wellbeing of those on site. Every inspection I completed I will ask, what hours are you currently working? How far do you have to travel? Are you currently working weekends? When was your last day off? The time pressures on project, companies and individuals can be immense and more often than not I am coming across 10-hour days 6 days a week, over weeks and months at a time. For me, this is unsustainable, and will over time have a real detrimental effect on anyone’s wellbeing. Plus, what affect is it having on their ability to complete work activities safety?
If I then approach excessive working hours like I would any other hazard on site, (working at height, dust, COSHH) I ask where the controls are? None. Are their managing directors, project managers, site managers, aware? I would like to think not, but realistically, they are probably working the same excessive hours.
Construction has a large number of workers from overseas. For them being in a foreign country, so far away from their home and family, with possible language barriers, there is a strong chance they will feel isolated and unaware of how they can get support. Are we doing enough to offer this group of people support? I believe there is defiantly ways we can reach out more. Could support information or packs be made able? Could we offer a support officer in the same way we have occupational nurses on site?
Between July-August 2017, Construction News completed a survey of 3,700 construction works, 73% said they felt their employers did not recognised early signs of metal health problem.
If I go onto a construction site I can easily talk to the supervisors and managers regarding their work process and procedures but talk about stress or depression and it is just not topics they have really thought about. How many tool box talks cover mental wellbeing and health? How many contractors have a wellbeing policy? I do not believe that it is because the managers and supervisors just do not care, it is just down to awareness and understanding. We need to train our managers to be able to identify signs of mental health and give them guidance on how to deal these situations.
There is also a lot of incentives for companies to have strong wellbeing policies and procedures.
According to Health and Safety Executive figures, 15% of reported work-related illnesses in the UK construction industry are the result of mental health problems, such as stress, depression or anxiety, which accounts for 400,000 lost working days each year. (LFS annual average 2014/15-2016/17)
Poor mental health results in a reduction in productivity of 15.1 billion in productivity a year.
And companies spend £2.4 billion a year in replacing staff who leave their jobs because of mental ill health.
Taking simple steps to improve the management of mental health in the workplace should enable employers to save 30% or more of these costs a year. (Centre for mental health via mates in mind)
So, having a positive mental health culture, looking after the wellbeing of employees can result in happier, more efficient workforce that help to deliver stronger finical results.
And let’s face it, it is the right thing to do. Let’s start caring about our people.
Written By Louise Collins
Construction Industry Helpline
Call: 0345 605 1956
Provided by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and supported by the Considerate Constructors Scheme, the helpline advises on a range of matters including occupational health and wellbeing, support and advice for people with stress, and home worries such as divorce, tax and financial concerns. The services can also provide emergency financial aid to the construction community in times of crisis.
Call: 116 123 (UK & ROI)
The Samaritans offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – whatever you’re going through, call free any time from any phone. Available around the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
Call: 0300 123 3393
The team at the leading mental health charity Mind can provide information on a range of topics including types of mental health problem, where to get help, medication and alternative treatments.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call: 0800 58 58 58 (UK) 0808 802 58 58 (London)
CALM provide a helpline for men in the UK who are down or have hit a wall, who need to talk or find information and support. The helpline is open 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. They also offer a webchat service between the same hours.
Prevention of Young Suicide – Papyrus
Call: 0800 068 41 41
Text: 07786 209697
Papyrus provide confidential help and advice to young people and anyone worried about a young person. Their HOPELineUK service is staffed by trained professionals who give non-judgemental support, practical advice and information to; children, teenagers and people up to the age of 35