Did you know suicide kills more construction workers than falls?
23 November 2018
Physical health and safety is already taken extremely seriously in the construction industry. However, statistics suggest that the most dangerous thing on a building site is the human mind.
At a time where suicide kills more people in the construction industry than falls from height, it is only right that mental health and safety is given the same level of thought, time and investment as other site hazards to ensure that the workers in the industry are truly protected.
What can health and safety managers do to prevent this?
The industry has taken steps to reduce the stigma around mental health and to improve support but there is more that each and every one of us can do just by being aware of the signs and encouraging people to talk. Do not underestimate the impact you can make just by talking to someone. You could change someone’s life.
What can employers do?
The statistics as they stand are clearly unacceptable – mental health needs to be made an urgent priority by all employers in the construction industry. Emily Pearson, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Be. The Centre for Wellbeing (a mental health charity based in Newcastle upon Tyne specialising in corporate mental health and workplace wellbeing) has provided the following steps that all employers can take to actively improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce.
- Culture check – Undertake a culture check to establish the culture of the workforce and where there may be particular pain points for staff due to job design and work-related stress.
- Culture change – A change in the culture surrounding mental health needs to start at the top. Leadership teams can show commitment to creating a culture change towards mentally healthier workplaces and workforces by signing the Time to Change Pledge or by investing in a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy to create culture change in a safe and structured manner.
- Mental health safety net – Employers should ensure their employees have access to and are aware of support available through counselling and therapy services.
- Up-skilling and education – Team leaders responsible for supporting employees should have sufficient knowledge and skills to be able to spot the signs of poor mental health and to provide support and guidance.
- Peer support – Employers should up-skill and educate employees so they can look out for any peers who may be struggling with their mental health. Knowing how to start the conversation and knowing how to safely signpost peers to mental health services can make a huge difference at the early signs of mental health difficulty.
- Reduce stigma – Employers need to reduce stigma, raise awareness, change attitudes and provide knowledge to empower employees to look after their mental health and wellbeing.
- Embed and repeat – It is essential that employers continue to provide these interventions, services and training in order to embed culture change – not just tick the mental health box.
Crossrail created a series of videos to highlight these issues
The Crossrail Health and Safety team has produced six short films designed to encourage a focus on some of the health impacts and safety risks that construction workers face. ‘Gary’s Story’ highlights the issues around mental health and demonstrates some of the tell tail signs.
Mental health is an area that has significant stigma associated with it. One in four people suffer with mental health issues in any given year and the suicide rate in the construction industry greatly exceeds that in wider society. The film illustrates how people you see every day can be suffering in silence, how it’s important to be aware and understand mental health issues and how showing that you care about the health of your colleagues by listening and offering support can make a real difference.
The cost of mental health is commercial too
Employers need to prioritise mental health in the workplace for commercial reasons too. Unrecognised and unsupported mental health issues can have a massive impact on a company’s revenue. According to the National Building Specification, mental health issues account for people taking almost 70 million days off sick per year – the most of any health condition – costing the UK economy between £70bn and £100bn a year.