Browsing through the latest news offerings from our industry publishers, it’s becoming apparent that (finally) the construction industry is starting to pay attention to the ‘Health’ in construction health and safety.  As a psychology graduate and a long standing advocate of safeguarding the nation’s well-being, this is great to see.

The health of the nation as a whole as I’m, sure you are all aware from various news reports, is in quite a sorry state.  The Office for National Statistics released their annual report on National Health and Well-being last month.  Whilst statistics were overall not too bleak, much still remains to be done.  Figures show that satisfaction with health in the UK fell from 66.3% in the financial year ending 2011 to 57.8% in the financial year ending 2014 (ONS, 2016) with population ‘mental well-being’ scores also falling over this three-year period.

Health in Construction Health and Safety…

If we take a look at the construction industry, figures elsewhere confirm that ours is an industry in need of much attention in regards to the health and well-being of its workers.

There were 69,000 cases of self-reported illness in the industry in 2014/2015 costing £1.3bn lost in work days – 20% of these were related to mental health.

It’s important to clarify when we are considering the ‘health’ of construction workers, what exactly this entails.  The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.  All of these aspects need to be taken into consideration, not just physical aspects such as asbestos or noise related problems but also the less visible ‘mental’ health aspects.

It’s hard to see the struggles that people are dealing with everyday, particularly in such a male dominated environment.  Latest figures by the ONS (2013 statistics) show that male suicide rates are more than three times higher than the female rate and that the highest UK suicide rate in 2013 by broad age group was among men aged 45 to 59.  Again in a male dominated industry with many in this age bracket, this is something we cannot ignore.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales, representing 24% of all deaths in 2013, and for men aged 35-49, at 13% of deaths.

Feeling that we aren’t performing well at work or fitting in, can lead to stress and anxiety which in turn can manifest itself in panic attacks or other symptoms including depression.  The industry is still very much recovering from the last recession and so given the context of a challenging economic environment and the social impact that brings the statistics here may be unsurprising.

The construction landscape is always changing with new agendas, regulations and the like being laid down. We need to consider the impact of these changes on those that have to implement such changes as this can put high levels of psychological pressure and stress on people in such environments.

Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than fall from height

Many people (particularly men) feel too embarrassed to ask for help however. It’s for this reason we need to ensure that we have support mechanisms in place.  One thing we can do is ensure that we have robust training and development plans in place.  This will help ensure that people have the right skills and knowledge to perform in their role and may help to highlight if they are struggling with any aspects of their role.  We can also commit to paying people the living wage as a minimum and pay our supply chains on time.  Financial issues can have serious impacts of peoples’ health and well-being and so simple initiatives like this may not solve all problems but it will go a long way to help some people.

The HSE have published a set of Occupational Health Standards for the construction industry but I wonder how many of us adhere to this?  With tender questions focused very much on the safety side of things, perhaps even less than we think.

Good for Employees – Good for Business

Having robust health and safety policies and procedures in place helps us to win work through obtaining high scores on these section in bids.  But have we thought about how much we could be saving in house through focusing on the ‘health’ aspect of this?  Around £1.3bn is lost each year due to reported illnesses in the industry.  Proactively managing employees’ physical and mental health can bring significant business benefits including a reduction of sickness absence; increased productivity; reduction in lost time due to accidents and associated costs; greater staff engagement; reduced staff turnover; and increased profitability – everybody benefits.  It can also benefit in the bid process though demonstrating how we train and develop our staff, a question I see time and time again in bids.

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