How employers in construction can protect their staff’s mental health

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Construction industry
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The construction industry is still one of the most dangerous sectors to work in thanks to the invisible risk of employee mental health

The construction industry takes great care in protecting staff from visible risks, ensuring all precautions are taken to maintain the physical well-being of its workers

Despite this, construction is still one of the most dangerous sectors to work in due to the big presence of a risk that isn’t visible: employee mental health.

“Safety is one of the biggest concerns in the construction industry,” says Daniel Ure from Vizwear, “and since one of the biggest risks to workers in construction today is that posed by mental health problems, addressing them needs to be at the top of an employer’s list of priorities.”

“Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around this topic, which causes too many people to keep their issues to themselves. This can lead to disastrous consequences, which is why it’s so important for employers to protect their staff.”

The state of mental health in construction

In the UK, mental health issues lead to over 70 million sick days per year. Whether it’s anxiety, depression or stress, mental health causes more sick days than any other health condition and costs our economy between £70bn and £100bn each year.

However, struggles with mental health can have much more serious ramifications. — and in no other industry is that quite so evident as in construction.

Data from the Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, the highest number of suicides were found in skilled construction workers. With over 1400 in-work suicides, this sector makes up over 13% of those recorded, despite construction only accounting for 7% of the UK workforce.

Construction News created a survey along with Mind Matters to identify any changes to mental health in construction between 2017-2018. Although 67% of respondents believe awareness has improved over this period, the results show no real improvement to mental health in the industry and that 81% believe there is still a stigma.

Why construction?

While mental health issues can affect anyone, men are particularly vulnerable. 76% of recorded suicides in the UK are committed by men, with suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 35.

And with men making up 89% of the workforce, this is a particularly problematic issue for the construction industry.

The working lifestyle of a construction worker can take its toll. Workers will often work long, demanding hours and can spend their days away from home for weeks at a time. Without a private, safe space to unwind, all the stresses of work add up and make it difficult to switch off.

The working environment —  where speaking about emotional or mental issues has historically been stigmatised— is also to blame, as the ‘macho’ image of construction workers makes it difficult to talk about mental health.

Thankfully, there are a number of positive initiatives employers can take, as well as registered charities and support groups dedicated to the well-being of construction workers.

What are the signs?

Unlike physical injuries, mental health issues are difficult to spot and are often kept secret.

Thankfully, there are a few common telltale signs when someone is struggling with their mental health:

  • They find it difficult to problem-solve
  • They are easily distracted and are less productive than usual
  • They lack self-confidence
  • They are easily agitated and create conflict amongst co-workers
  • They feel easily overwhelmed
  • They are increasingly late or absent from work
  • They often isolate themselves from others.

What can employers do?

The best way for the construction industry to tackle the importance of employee mental health is from the top. Business owners and management need to implement the same safety standards they take towards physical health and safety and use them to safeguard mental health.

There are a number of steps that managers can take to create a positive work environment for their staff so that mental health can be comfortably addressed, rather than hidden away.

Create a supportive culture

The first step for a manager is to evaluate the culture of their workforce to detect any potential pain points for staff. This can range from employee workloads to how staff communicate with each other throughout the business.

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