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Mental Health in Construction Industry

Stigmas surrounding mental health have started to evolve, and now more companies across a variety of market sectors are beginning to provide all staff and colleagues with the appropriate support if and when they need it.

The construction industry, however, is still falling behind. British males working in the sector are statistically three times more likely to commit suicide when compared to the average male working in other industries. This provides a stark reminder that there are still significant difficulties being faced by those working in construction every day.

While both physical health and on-site safety could be described as being the best it’s ever been, the same can’t be said for mental health management and awareness. The Office for National Statistics found that over 13% of suicides recorded (by occupation) were those operating in the construction and building trades, despite the fact the sector makes up only seven per cent of the entire UK workforce.

Shockingly, around 400,000 working days are being lost every year in the construction industry due to ill-health, and the majority of related cases stem from some form of mental health issue. With construction contributing around £13bn a year to the UK economy, it is essential the mental health among workers in drastically improved to ensure no productivity is lost. But what is causing the high statistics of mental health in the industry?

Why is construction more susceptible?

Several factors make the construction industry lifestyle one that is undoubtedly challenging and stressful for employees. Demanding and long working hours, working away from home for long periods, and the underlying job security unease following the collapse of Carillion in 2018 are all drivers of anxiety and stress. Couple this with the typical ‘tough guy’ image, which tends to be widespread throughout the industry, and it becomes easy for mental health issues to take root and overwhelm those suffering.

The physical nature of the job can also leave workers out of work due to injuries, and this again can create stress, anxiety and the likelihood of periods of depression. Added to this is a lack of paid sick leave, holidays or access to health programmes from some organisations, means it is harder for those suffering to get the help they need.

Across wider society, the awareness surrounding mental health is increasing, but it is taking time to filter through to the industry. Asking for help and opening up about feelings are not natural processes for most people employed in the sector.

Is there a way to turn things around?

Shaking off the stigma attached to talking about mental health won’t be an easy task, but we are starting to see the industry wake up and take action. Social movements like ‘Time to Change’ are aiming to alter the way the industry thinks and acts about mental health.

blu-3 has continued its journey alongside the Lighthouse Club & the Time to Change initiative to help end the stigma related to mental health. The company has a steering group that is chaired by its HSEQ Director to ensure the strategy is followed and that there is a very good understanding around the effects of poor mental health along with the importance of good mental health. blu-3 also has a significant number of mental health first aiders across the business. However, it does not just focus on the reactive as it provides monthly wellbeing initiatives to help promote positive mental wellbeing and how to exercise good physical and mental health. Colleagues also regularly undertake employee engagement and stress surveys to enable blu-3 to understand the challenges people face so that it can tackle specific areas of concern.

The initiatives outlined are incredibly worthwhile. However, they are unlikely to help the industry fully overcome the issue of stigma, which places a block on a significant number of workers reaching out for help. The sad truth is that many employees will never reach out to employers or services to seek support, and we have a tremendous opportunity to make some effort to fix that.

Looking ahead

Physical health and safety are taken extremely seriously in the construction industry. However, statistics show that the most dangerous aspect of a building site is in the mind. Whether human error or intentional action, employees are at the centre of risk and mental health can exacerbate the issue.

Suicide is killing more people in the industry than on-site accidents. So, it only seems reasonable to treat mental health in the same vein, ensuring the same amount of time, thought and investment goes into building awareness and management of its impact on employees.

Steps are being taken by leading figures in the industry to help reduce the stigma around mental health and improve the support available, but there is still a long way to go, and we must encourage more engagement and discussion on the topic if anything is ever going to change.

blu-3 (UK) Limited (‘blu-3’) is a world-class, fully integrated infrastructure provider delivering expertise to the UK and Europe’s largest construction projects. For more information, please visit www.blu-3.co.uk

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