The biggest risk to our construction workers is not coming from where we expect, it is not falls from height or machinery related accidents, but suicide which is taking the most lives from the construction industry. Today, we look at how to change that.
A Rewarding Trade to Survive
In the UK, the construction industry is booming, it creates jobs for our new generations as they often come in as unskilled apprentices and learn a trade for life. There are many career paths within the construction industry and countless progression routes which make it a smart choice for skilled workers who want to work in a hands-on and rewarding trade.
A silent epidemic
However, our construction industry is suffering a silent epidemic, our workers are 1.6 times more likely to commit suicide than workers in any other profession. It is so bad that a quarter of the construction workers admitted to having considered taking their own life and 1 in every 7 workers has lost a colleague to suicide!
A ‘masculine’ profession
The traditionally ‘masculine’ profession is plagued by the stigma which expects the ‘men’ to shut up and put up, without suffering with mental illness, this stigma could be by far the most damaging part of the construction industry, with 1 in 5 workers feeling that if they were to discuss their mental health issues it could actually risk them losing their job.
Where do we place help?
With the full-time workers of the UK spending the majority of their waking hours at work, many employers have now recognised the need to have mental health first aiders and support services in place to give those suffering the strength, courage, and direction to go and find professional help. What often makes this difficult to achieve in the construction industry is the lack of consistency in staff available and difficult access to a head office where help could be found. This is because construction workers rarely work in the same place for long, moving between contracts to wherever they are needed. Offices on site tend to be small portacabins with just enough room for the project managers to get their heads together to discuss urgent onsite matters and there simply is not the room in the build budget to supply a second office solely for the use of a mental health support worker who may or may not be needed.
Where to start
Deadlines are tight too, meaning leaving the site to visit support services may leave colleagues with extra pressure and bigger workloads, which could make a worker feel unable to leave work to attend appointments, especially if they are the only person on site with a particular skill which is crucial to continue works.
The epidemic has gained momentum though, with many new charities and organisations speaking up for our tradesmen and women. Reasons cited as contributing factors include low pay, lack of job security (especially for self-employed contractors), long hours and increased pressure on the job. Whilst we maybe can’t tackle these factors quickly, we can ensure that we are supporting our workers appropriately whilst we address the wider issue.
In 2016 The Samaritans held a seminar where they reported 6,122 deaths by suicide in 2014, 74% of these suicides were men, this compares with 1,775 deaths from RTAs and makes up a shocking picture. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men under 50, the highest risk age group appears to be 45-59, and these men were 10 times more likely to be part of this figure if they were financially struggling.
The Samaritans suggest that any responsible employer should first recognise an issue, enabling them to put a plan in place. Employers can then look to organisations like The Samaritans or MIND for guidance or support. Other guidance suggests that 1 in every 100 should be trained as a mental health first aider, whether that means subcontractors, contractors or employees and there should be 1 mental health first aider to every 100 workers on any project at any one time.
It’s ok to not be ok
It seems more and more obvious that the best way we can support these people who are struggling is by first standing up and telling them it is OK to struggle. The ‘It’s OK to not be OK’ is a powerful and resounding message that needs to be heard by the entire workforce.
Once the stigma starts to be broken down, staff should know who their mental health first aider is, and be given access to a resource, such as a toolbox talk on how to manage mental health problems at work, who to speak to and what support may be available to workers who speak out.
Using CRAMS to bridge the gap
CRAMS is a health and safety software solution, which would give all workers on a project access to a central library of all the relevant documents and policies and this type of solution works well for distributing mental health information. A mental health management at work policy could be uploaded, showing staff what they should expect in terms of support should they encounter issues. There is also a place to host site-specific risk assessments, part of which could be the risk of stress at work or dealing with mental illness at work, which provides significant hazards if it affects concentration – this would give staff the name and contact details of the mental health first aiders available on that site, or access to one of the mental health support resources.
I think the biggest issue in construction is likely to be having the power to distribute information, an issue that CRAMS overcome by sharing all relevant information with all workers at any one time, from anywhere.
CRAMS users report feeling empowered owing to the access to information they are given, the fact they could access this at home, onsite or anywhere in-between from any internet enabled device makes the solution more appealing. It is a one for all solution, managing Risk Assessments, Method Statements, Policies, COSHH, news and Training (with over 50 e-learning courses included).
For those looking for a good start place to find help for their team, check out the below resources: