Mental Health: How Do We Combat the Construction Industry’s True Health and Safety Crisis?

Mental Health: How Do We Combat the Construction Industry’s True Health and Safety Crisis?

In 2021, 507 construction workers in the UK lost their lives to suicide. This is far from being an isolated scenario, either; the industry is battling a mental health crisis at a global level. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ?ve times as many construction workers die by suicide than from falls, electrocutions, or being struck by or caught in/between objects or structures.

Initiatives have sought to improve mental health support in the sector and encourage honest conversations in a male-dominated culture that has traditionally stigmatised talking about feelings and been largely characterised by an attitude of “getting on with it.”

But how effective have such initiatives been?

Rare Industry Survey Reveals Mental Health Crisis Shows No Signs of Abating

Throughout 2022 and 2023, ex-Everton and England football player Trevor Steven visited construction sites up and down England in his role as mental health ambassador for Causeway Technologies, a global software provider for the construction, maintenance and infrastructure sector.

Steven gathered responses from over 1,400 workers in a range of roles, from general labourers and surveyors to engineers and plant operators, to gather insight into the mental health of workers in an industry historically underrepresented in studies that mostly focus on those in of?ce-based roles.

In April 2024, Causeway presented the results of its anonymous survey, revealing a troubling trend.

Among its ?ndings were that:

  • More than half (56%) of construction workers surveyed struggled with their mental health, citing anxiety (40%), depression (37%), fatigue linked to low mood (28%), lack of self-con?dence (25%) and feeling overwhelmed (25%).
  • 12% experienced suicidal thoughts.
  • Only 21% were diagnosed by a GP, indicating the majority have been coping without professional support.

According to the survey, 59% of those surveyed cited long and irregular working hours as the primary contributor to poor mental health, but many also highlighted ?nancial pressures such as late payment, lack of job security and site culture.

Are We Doing Enough to Support the Mental Health of Workers in the Construction Sector?

The study reveals that 80% of employees believe their company has a responsibility for workers’ mental health but that many aren’t doing enough to provide support; putting up a mental health poster in the communal break room is not enough.

Employers are in a strong position to change the tide. By addressing the top contributors to poor mental health from the ground up, organisations can demonstrate to workers that they truly care.

However, that’s not to say that these problems can be ?xed overnight. For example, the contractor-sub-contractor model and reliance on agency workers often lead to continual turnover, making it dif?cult for workers to develop relationships and feel comfortable having an open conversation about mental health.

Similarly, self-employed contractors anxious about their next contract are also more likely to work long hours to meet unrealistic deadlines and avoid taking the time off they need to manage their mental health because — unlike in other sectors — they cannot get ?nancial support when they cannot work.

This is a particular concern — workers who prioritise their mental health face the same ?nancial pressures that directly contribute to their workplace stress to begin with.

But that doesn’t mean that change is impossible or won’t make a difference, and it need not break the bank.

Workers shared that they would value access to mental health support, whether an app or website that points them to helpful resources or direct access to con?dential support from counsellors, such as a dedicated helpline or chat function.

For example, if site managers provide contractors with links to resources on managing work-life balance, make the effort to have conversations and check in with workers after a long day, and provide ?exible working around family or other commitments, it could alleviate the pressure — or even save a life.

Causeway is encouraging organisations to pledge to commit to creating a better workplace environment in construction that includes providing mental health support for workforces.

But as the tragic statistics and responses from workers show, companies must back any pledge or statement with action. Only by taking practical steps toward better mental health provision will we combat the stigma and achieve change.

In a landmark move to address the pressing issue of mental health within construction, Veriforce CHAS, the leading provider of compliance and supply chain risk management services, has launched the ?rst Mental Health & Wellbeing evaluation for the sector. It forms part of the core Veriforce CHAS assessment and enables contractors to demonstrate they prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of their workforces by providing evidence of documented mental health and ?exible work policies and examples of the support provided to staff experiencing mental health problems. The question set marks a signi?cant step towards embedding a culture of mental health and wellbeing practices across construction businesses in the UK.

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