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

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

    Despite this, construction is still one of the
    most dangerous sectors to work in thanks 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 online PPE retailer 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 £70 billion and £100 billion 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 stigmatized— 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 wellbeing 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.

    1.  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.

    By putting their business under a microscope,
    managers can build a strong, supportive work culture from the ground up. This
    will help to establish mental wellbeing as a crucial value of the company,
    meaning open discussions about employee mental health will become the norm.

    2.  Educate employees

    By making education a priority, employers can
    help to remove the stigma of mental health and ensure their staff understand
    the negative impacts that can affect anyone.

    This can range from providing easily
    accessible information for your staff to hiring third-party organisations, such
    as Mates in
    Mind, to come in for regular staff training days.

    With a team of knowledgable employees, a
    company will find it easier to combat any dangers and empower their staff to
    support each other when facing difficulties with their mental health. Improving
    awareness creates more opportunities to spot early signs of coworkers
    struggling and creates an overall healthier workplace environment.

    3.  Be open and available

    Mental health is a private matter to many
    people, which makes it difficult to speak about openly. Without establishing a
    clear and open line of communication, it’s much more likely that workers will
    keep their troubles to themselves.

    By letting employees know that they always
    have someone to talk to, they are much more likely to come out of their shell
    and identify any health problems like anxiety or depression early enough to put
    in place counteractive measures.

    It can be difficult in construction as
    employees don’t often have a static working environment, so site managers
    should take it upon themselves to establish regular catch ups with staff to
    evaluate their wellbeing.

    4.  Be vigilant

    Tackling mental health takes a lot more than
    running a one-off seminar. Many mental health issues take time to be resolved,
    which means companies need to be aware of their staff’s needs all year round.

    By continuing to offer training, guidance and
    support to their employees, mental health care will be embedded into a
    companies culture and will become a natural part of its safety protocol – not
    just ticking a box on a form.

    5.  Put a support system in place

    Spotting the early signs is important, yet
    employers also need to ensure they create a safety net for their staff.
    Companies need to make sure that helpful information is readily available for
    employees so that anyone struggling with their mental health knows where to
    turn to receive support through services like counselling and therapy.

    Resources

    When it comes to protecting your employees’
    mental health, there are a number of resources available for extra support.

    As of January 2017, the Health in Construction
    Leadership Group (HCLG) established Mates in Mind, its own registered charity
    whose sole purpose is to raise awareness and provide support for the mental
    wellbeing of construction workers.

    Mates in Mind have a goal to reach 75% of the
    construction industry by 2025 and offer training courses based on four key
    elements: Awareness & Education, Guidance & Support, Communication and
    Research & Development.

    If you work in construction and need urgent
    help or support in regards to your mental health, there are also a number of
    confidential services and advice lines available:

    • Construction
      Industry Helpline 0345 605 1956 – Provided by the Lighthouse
      Construction Industry Charity, the helpline advises on a range of matters
      including occupational health and wellbeing, support and advice for people with
      stress The services can also provide emergency financial aid to the
      construction community in times of crisis.
    • Mind 0300 123 393 – Provides advice and
      support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem
    • Samaritans
      116 123 – Confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings
      of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts

    “Despite construction’s reputation for poor
    mental health, there are actually a lot of support systems in place to help
    protect the workers,” says Daniel from Vizwear.

    “Communication is still the biggest obstacle
    between employees and management, which is why confidential advice lines are so
    important. By giving construction workers the opportunity to discuss their
    mental health in a supportive environment, they can take positive steps without
    the need to speak publicly.

    “If more workers make use of these services,
    they will feel more comfortable speaking to their employers about their mental
    health, which is the first step to making real change in the industry.”