Mental Health in Construction: How to safeguard wellbeing
The construction sector is proving to be one of the worst cases for staff well being. In this blog we have looked in to the problem and what solutions are available.
It is thought that suicide figures in the construction sector could be as much as 10 times higher than average sector work fatality figures.
Several reasons have been suggested for particularly poor health, safety and well-being figures in the construction industry. In a workforce which is predominantly male, specific risks associated with male mental health also need to be considered. The “tough guy” image, which is widespread within the construction industry, is very much to blame. Asking for help and opening up about do not come naturally to many of those working in this particular industry. You can imagine eyes glazing over at yet another health and safety induction. Meanwhile, there is a suspicion that some of the smaller companies are less committed to health and safety principles. Other factors such as long hours, extended time working away from home and the temporary and precarious nature of many construction projects have all contributed to these difficulties. What can be done to tackle the problem?
A welcome shift in attitude:
Traditionally, the health and safety focus in construction has been on the more immediately-apparent physical hazards and their impact on site safety, with the issue of mental wellbeing pushed to the side. But attitudes are now changing, as people realise that the silent issue of mental health is just as dangerous.
And thankfully, as awareness around mental health builds and stigma is steadily eroded, the discussion is expanding around how to tackle the problem. Here are seven relatively simple ways to enhance wellbeing and ensure mental health stays at the forefront of the agenda…
Create a communal core:
The immediate environment has a huge impact on the mindset of the workforce, and consequently on mental health. Isolation – common in construction – can all too easily feed into feelings of loneliness, which is one of the driving forces of wellbeing problems. But by creating pleasant communal areas, where workers can take time out during breaks, employers can encourage socialising and relaxation during off-times.
Improve access to daylight:
Consider enhancing access to natural light too, which creates attractive relaxation spaces that staff will actively want to spend time in. Good lighting, in fact, is an important consideration throughout the site, preventing health problems such as fatigue, headaches and eye strain, all of which can increase stress levels.
Consider colour schemes:
Likewise, calming colours, such as green and blue, can contribute to a positive atmosphere in break areas. Shades of bright red and yellow are stimulating, and should be avoided in relaxation spaces, unless they’re used as accent colours or in small doses for decoration. Kitchens, canteens and break areas can all be designed – or redecorated, if they exist already – with these principles in mind.
Provide a quieter space:
Ideally, sites should have a mixture of spaces – some for private relaxation and some for socialising during breaks. This allows workers to “switch off” in their preferred ways during their own time. Consider acoustics too – if possible, the relaxation areas should be protected from site noise, for both health and safety reasons and mental wellbeing.
Keep communication open:
Of course, it’s vital that employees know their health and safety – both mental and physical – is the top priority when they’re working, too. Communicating the health and safety policies for the site, and making sure they’re followed at all times, shows that the employer values them and their safety. That in itself contributes to a sense of wellbeing.
For anyone wondering which wellbeing initiatives would be most beneficial to your workforce, I’d suggest asking them. Every workplace is unique and the steps you need to take to protect your staff’s mental health will vary according to their specific circumstances.
In all cases, providing support for employees who might have concerns about their mental health is a crucial move. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma attached to these issues, so not everybody will feel comfortable raising them, especially in a work environment.
But knowing there’s a safe place to turn to for help can be a huge comfort to many construction workers and, adopted industry-wide, this measure may even save lives.
Take training seriously:
Stress management training can also provide strong benefits too, both for individuals and for teams. After all, informed managers will be far more likely to spot the signs of somebody who is struggling.
Employee wellbeing is a traditionally undervalued subject, and one that employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of tackling. It needs to be taken seriously on an ongoing basis, with regular reviews to ensure workers’ needs are being met.
Though the culture of the industry has arguably contributed to the problems, times are changing and there’s plenty that employers can do to play their part in the recovery.
Improving wellbeing doesn’t have to be a difficult or especially time-consuming project, and many of the measures to take are quite simple. However, putting some thought into the subject can greatly improve the working environment of a large number of workers, and perhaps even prove life-saving.
Where to go for help:
If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.
Resources are also available online. “U can Cope” includes a film and resources that are designed for people in distress and those trying to support them, to instil hope, promote appropriate self-help and inform people regarding useful strategies and how they can access help and support. “Staying safe if you’re not sure life’s worth living” includes practical, compassionate advice and many useful links for people in distress.