Is the construction industry as safe as it seems?

The construction industry used to be regarded as a dangerous industry to work in. That is no longer the case.

Significant progress has been made in reducing the number of accidents on buildings sites, with health and safety measures introduced many years ago now so commonplace they are taken for granted. It is easy to forget how things were and the huge strides that have been made.

A similar effort is now required to ensure the sector tackles mental health problems. Construction workers are six times more likely to take their own lives than they are to die from a serious fall. That is a tragic statistic the industry must do more to address. We need to act to reduce the human cost of conditions that are not always easy to spot but can be treated effectively when they are identified.

Why construction?

The high prevalence of suicide is partly rooted in societal problems that some may argue we are powerless to address.

Construction is no longer an exclusively male industry, but it is still the case that large numbers of young men are employed in and around sites. They are one of the groups that are most likely to experience mental health problems and men in the UK are three times more likely to take their own lives than women. The reasons for that are complex and many of them are not easy to solve, but employers can make a difference if they have the will to do so.

The industry has a duty of care to everyone and changing social attitudes to depression and mental health mean talking about these issues is no longer a taboo subject. Earlier this year, Interserve made a wellness tool available to its colleagues. The Thrive app helps users monitor and manage their moods, which can be the first step in acknowledging and addressing mental health issues. Developed by a psychiatrist and psychologist with over four decades of experience between them, it can provide clinically approved techniques available to users online, including cognitive behavioural therapy.

Why now?

Mental health issues affect one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown has prompted a significant spike in the number of people who are struggling with these problems across the country, research by the University of Glasgow has found.

“Significant progress has been made in reducing the number of accidents on buildings sites. A similar effort is now required to ensure the sector tackles mental health problems”

Paul Gandy, Interserve

Research shows that 60 per cent of people who suffered from a mental illness, including anxiety or depression, waited over a year to tell someone. It’s not easy to open up to bosses, family members or friends, but we must do more to remove the stigma that surrounds these issues. We support anyone with mental illnesses and have a number of Mental Health First Aiders in our organisation that can help colleagues access the help and support they need.

No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about any mental health problems they may be experiencing, and we actively encourage all of our colleagues to be open about discussing them.

The resources available to managers and employees include tools to help with symptoms and training to ensure colleagues are encouraged to ask for help and line managers know where to access the care and support they need. The pandemic has transformed the way we live and work and some of those changes may prove to be permanent.

It is important that we continue to debunk the myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health and recognise it’s a problem that can affect anyone.

Paul Gandy is the managing director of Interserve Construction

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