Margaret Hanson, chief executive of national mental health and wellbeing charity Imagine Independence, calls for a unified culture change to tackle mental illness in the construction sector
Major reform is needed to better manage mental health in the construction industry. Working on a building site has become the deadliest profession in the UK, but it has little do with physical injuries.
According to the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures, 3,400 construction workers committed suicide between 2001 and 2017 – an average of 212 every year this century. Labourers and crane operators are now more likely than ever to be off sick due to anxiety, stress and depression.
Setting the standard
There have been great strides across the sector when it comes to workplace mental illness in recent years. And this should rightly be applauded. However, the sheer scale and complexities of the issue demand a uniform approach across the entire industry to be effective.
There must be a set standard that businesses can adhere to if there is to be real long-term success. In October 2017, a relatively unknown government-commissioned independent review of mental health in the workplace was released.
Thriving at Work, led by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Mind CEO Paul Farmer, focused on how employers could create a “positive and supportive workplace culture themselves, free from stigma.”
The 10-year plan was to ensure employees had “good work”, which contributes positively to mental health, society and the economy.
It was based on setting mental health “core standards” – a framework to enable swift implementation, including
- Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan.
- Developing mental health awareness among employees.
- Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
- Providing employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.
- Promoting effective people management through line managers and supervisors.
- Routinely monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.
The report urged all employers to adopt these standards as a basis to integrate their own ideas and methods accordingly.
If this approach could be introduced across the sector, in a format that is appropriate, it would save lives and provide a base line to audit performance and improvements. This would enable construction firms to provide a safe working environment in line with health and safety legislation.
A united front
The industry should also consider benchmarking to ensure mental health practices are in line across the board.
The NHS’s Benchmarking Network, for example, shows how a whole sector approach can be adopted. The network has been providing mental health trusts in England and Wales with quality and performance data for more than six years. This is used to inform future research, national policies and service transformation.
Better outcomes in building
Ultimately, without clear and unified direction, mental health in construction will continue to be a significant issue. The industry is built on effectively working together to overcome challenges and reach a common objective.
Maybe it’s time the mental health of staff became an integral part of that culture.