Mental Health Awareness in The Construction Industry

The construction industry is very familiar with managing the health and safety risks of its employees, to ensure they remain safe and productive at work. Working from height, asbestos, noise and moving objects are just some of the everyday risks facing construction workers. Yet after the emergence of COVID-19, construction companies (along with every other industry) were required to put in place COVID-Secure measures to keep their sites in operation, whilst minimising the risk of spreading and catching COVID-19. This added another complex dimension to the health and safety of those working in the sector, but also fuelled the existing challenges of staff absences and mental health.

 Research shows that workplace absences in construction as a result of mental ill-health have increased over the last 5 years, which in part could be down to a greater mental health awareness in the industry.

The National Access and Scaffolding Confederation Head for Heights campaign aims to change how mental health is approached and acted upon within the scaffolding industry and wider construction sector. The NASC wants to break down the stigma surrounding mental health so that someone who has a mental health issue is treated exactly the same as someone who suffers a physical injury, such as a fracture following a slip, trip or fall.

The NASC recommends that scaffolding contractors consider the following six items so that they can put in place measures to improve mental health wellbeing to ensure all staff and scaffolders have a Head for Heights. 

1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan. 

• Developing a one page plan that is included in your Health & Safety Policy, as part of your drive to prevent ill-health, which is reviewed as a minimum annually. 

• Consider joining an industry campaign, which provides mental health resources such as “Time to Change”. 

2. Develop mental health awareness among employees. 

• Hold regular advice and information sessions for all employees. 

• One-to-one conversations between managers and employees. 

• Ensure that if you are the Managing Director, Director or Owner that you consider your own wellbeing (we are all at risk of mental health issues). 

• Consider memos, bulletins and displaying posters to develop awareness. 

• Consider integrating mental health wellbeing practices into policies, training sessions, inductions, risk assessment/method statements (RAMS), formal meetings. 

3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling. 

• Directors and Managers talking to employees if concerned about them struggling (including being transparent about their own mental health issues) and ensuring they are supported. 

• Consider formalising your internal support framework (you may have an employee who everyone turns to, consider giving them training and arranging support for them). 

• Consider arranging for mental health champions to give support to employees. 

• Consider appointing mental health first aiders to give employer and employee support. 

• Consider an Employee Engagement Programme (EAP) for a more holistic approach. 

4. Provide employees with good working conditions.

 • Reviewing each operation – e.g. reviewing construction site works, yard work, transport operations, office work. 

• Consider engaging with your employees to get feedback on their roles (which might suggest ways to restructure to alleviate stress, reduce dependence on key personnel, reduce work overload, give appropriate control back to the employee, build relationships and provide support). 

5. Promote effective people management

• Directors and Managers arranging for all teams to meet up regularly to ensure that the competition is healthy, friendly and enjoyable. 

• Leaders to ensure they act professionally and communicate through all levels, show appreciation for good work and to make everyone in the group/company feel supported and valued. 

6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing. 

• Recording and monitoring absenteeism.

The construction industry lifestyle is undoubtedly both challenging and stressful. Long and demanding working hours, working away from home on site for weeks at a time and the lingering unease in the industry. These are just some of the factors contributing to poor mental health. 

Once you’ve opened up a dialogue with your employee about their mental health, the priority is to develop positive steps to address the key issues they’re struggling with. Clear policies on workplace adjustments are crucial in supporting staff to cope and their recovery. Adjustments for mental health are generally simple, practicable and cost-effective. This is not an exhaustive list, employers should explore with the individual their specific needs and be as creative as possible when thinking about how to address these issues

References:

SG38:19 Guidance on Mental Health Wellbeing 

https://nasc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/SG38_19-Guidance-on-Mental-Health-Wellbeing.pdf

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