Hilarious smiling construction workers in room

Physical and mental stress in construction

Between June 14th and June 20th, the world celebrates Men’s health week. Both physical and mental health are important for everyone, but perhaps more challenging to control for those whose jobs have physical demands but are also in a very male-dominated environment where asking for help or talking about mental health could be a sign of weakness.

Construction is certainly an industry that would fall into both categories and can often lead to individuals suffering far more than they ever should.

The stresses

Construction workers are often exposed to high-pressure and physically demanding situations, such as working from heights in windy conditions, using machinery, lifting and other physical activities like digging.

As an example, working at heights, like many other tasks within construction can be not just physically demanding on your body but it can also have mental implications. Situations like working from heights without the correct health & safety procedures or equipment can be extremely stressful, especially for those who are younger and might not have the confidence to question what they’re being told. This can lead to a build-up of stress and anxiety, especially if they’re working in those conditions for multiple days completing a task like fixing or retiling a roof.

There are also stressful factors away from sites that can have an impact, for example, late payments, meaning you and your employees might be strained financially can cause a lot of stress and pressure on you the employer and this can then have a knock-on effect on the employee’s that you’re responsible for and haven’t been paid.

 

Mental:

In the UK, suicide accounts for the most deaths in males under 45. According to an article published by the Holistic healthcare group, those that work in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than other industries.

The article also states that:

  • Suicide kills more construction workers than falls every year.
  • Depression and anxiety have overtaken musculoskeletal disorders in construction workers.
  • According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 13,232 in-work suicides between 2011 and 2015. The construction industry accounted for 13.2% of them, despite only accounting for 7% of the total UK workforce.
  • 23% of construction workers are considering leaving the industry in the next 12 months due to poor mental health.
  • 73% of all construction workers feel that their employers did not understand or recognise the early signs of poor mental health or offer any support.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Office of National Statistics stated that of the 13,232 in-work suicides, the construction industry accounted for 13.2% of these.  This comes despite the industry accounting for, at the time, roughly 7% of the UK workforce.

An article posted on the HR director website states that in a 2017 survey, 73% of construction workers felt their employers did not recognise the early signs of mental health. Consequently, 23% of those surveyed were considering leaving the industry, in the next 12 months, due to poor mental health.

 

Physical:

There were an estimated 42,000 work-related cases of musculoskeletal disorders (new or long-standing) in 2018/19, about three-fifths of all ill health in the construction industry with 2.1% of workers reporting musculoskeletal disorders – almost double the percentage of the average for all areas of work in the same period.

Other common types of musculoskeletal injuries in construction:

  • Carpet Layers’ Knee
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Syndrome or White Finger Disease
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

 

Common Causes of Construction Injuries:

  • Pushing, pulling, tugging and sliding
  • Whole Body Vibration
  • Vibration from Hand Tools
  • Repetitive Work
  • Lifting
  • Contact Stress (Tools and Sharp Objects)
  • Forcefulness or Muscle Effort

Less common areas of injury and illness within the construction and physically demanding jobs:

Contact dermatitis: Painters and decorators, carpenters and joiners, and building trades not elsewhere classified all suffer from more than twice the all-industry rate of contact dermatitis.

Occupational asthma: Airborne materials from spray painting, welding, or cutting/grinding metals are among the contributory factors to those suffering from asthma.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Commonly caused by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dust and environmental pollution. Smoking is the single most important causative factor.

Occupational Cancer: most commonly mesothelioma, a form of cancer that follows the inhalation of asbestos fibres. The extensive use of insulation board containing brown asbestos (amosite) within buildings for fire protection purposes is a common cause found in today’s construction industry.

Occupational Deafness – from years of exposure to loud machinery

 

Spotting symptoms

Despite not being one you would expect, according to the HSE’s 2018/19 report, there were an estimated 16,000 work-related cases of stress, depression, or anxiety (new or long-standing), which made up a quarter of all ill health in this Sector.

It is incredibly important to make sure that anyone working on your sites is comfortable in the environment they’re working in. That means they’re being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues, feel safe with the machinery or tasks they have been asked to complete and making sure they’re not subject to discriminatory behaviour.

It is also important to look out for anyone who may be struggling physically or with illness, below are some areas you should look out for to help spot any signs early.

Signs of anxiety and depression:

  • Loss of interest or no longer finding pleasure in activities or hobbies
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Anger, irritability, or restlessness
  • Feeling guilty or experiencing feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
  • Difficulty controlling worry or fear
  • Dread
  • Panic

Signs of injury of physical discomfort:

  • Rubbing or holding a specific area of the body
  • Performing certain tasks unnaturally, for example bending their back to reach low areas rather than bending their knees
  • Coughing regularly
  • Running out of breath faster than normal
  • A dramatic change in facial expression or demeanour
  • Rash lasting several days or getting worse
  • Infection at the injury site
  • Swelling

 

Taking actions:

Make sure if anyone is showing signs of a physical injury, illness, anxiety, depression or stress on-site that you’re open with them and ask if everyone is ok or what the issue may be.

A good option for employers could be setting up an employee assistance programme (EAP) where employees are able to talk to someone about the issues they may be facing anonymously and making staff aware that the system is in place and how to go about speaking to someone.

For more help on setting up EAP, check out this guide from our sister company Citation.

Physical injury at work of construction worker

Injury & illness within construction

Injury and illnesses in construction workers are particularly common, the intense physical activity that some workers will go through every day such as heavy lifting, using tools and operating machinery puts a lot of physical strain on the body. On top of that, lots of constructions workers often use or are exposed to chemicals and substances that can also cause issues to the skin or internally if inhaled.

Not only is construction common for injury and illness, but according to HSE, Construction workplace deaths rose to 40 in 2019/20, up from a low of 31 in the previous year.

In this article we will go through some of the most common injuries and illnesses to look out for and what you can do to help mitigate them, because a serious injury or illness may mean having to take time off work which isn’t something that everyone can afford to do, especially those that are self-employed.

Scaffolding / falling from height:

The first area we are going to cover is the most common cause of serious or even fatal injuries within construction and that’s falling from heights. There was a 27% rise in the number of incidents between 2017 and 2018, going from 89 in 2017 (which was an all-time low) to 113 in 2018, the highest it has been since 2012. The figures were revealed in the NASC 2019 Safety Report, which documents and analyses accident and injury statistics for its full contracting members in the previous calendar year.

2018/2019 Construction Statistics from HSE:

  • 30 fatal injuries to workers and seven to members of the public
  • Average of 36 fatalities to workers and five to members of the public each year over the last five years;
  • 49% of deaths over the same five-year period were due to falls from height

The fatal injury rate (1.31 per 100,000 workers) is three times the All industry rate.

Make sure you’re business or site is doing all it can to put the correct safety procedures in place and that you anyone working at a height or on a scaffold has the appropriate qualifications to mitigate and avoid potential issues.

 

Musculoskeletal injuries:

There were an estimated 42,000 work-related cases of musculoskeletal disorders (new or long-standing) in 2018/19, about three-fifths of all ill health in the construction industry with 2.1% of workers reporting musculoskeletal disorders – almost double the percentage of the average for all areas of work in the same time period.

One of the most common types of injury is lower back pain, most likely due to heavy lifting of materials and machinery which is something that can be reduced by using the correct lifting techniques (see figure below) or asking for help on items that are difficult to carry properly on your own.

 

Correct posture to lift a heavy object safely. Illustration of health care. vector illustration

 

Other common types of musculoskeletal injuries in construction:

  • Carpet Layers’ Knee
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Syndrome or White Finger Disease
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Common Causes for Construction Injuries:

  • Pushing, pulling, tugging and sliding
  • Whole Body Vibration
  • Vibration from Hand Tools
  • Repetitive Work
  • Lifting
  • Contact Stress (Tools and Sharp Objects)
  • Forcefulness or Muscle Effort

Some of the injuries list above are harder to avoid than others. Making sure you are using the best protective equipment and supports is one way to help reduce the chances of an injury occurring. Listening to your body and getting help or advice on any issues you’re having as soon as they appear is also highly recommended if you’re experiencing any pain or issues go and see a doctor as spotting the issues earlier may reduce them worsening over time and causing long term damage to your body.

Stress, Depression & Anxiety

According to the HSE’s 2018/19 report, there were an estimated 16,000 work-related cases of stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), which made up a quarter of all ill health in this Sector.

It is incredibly important to make sure that everyone working on your site is comfortable with their working environment. Making sure everyone is treated fairly and respected by their colleagues, feels safe with the machinery they’re using or tasks they have been asked to complete and also making sure they’re not subject to discriminatory behaviour.

Looking out for anyone that may not be acting themselves is something that is hard to do and creating an ‘open door to management’ environment so people can express any feelings of discomfort is something you should aim for. If you do spot anyone showing signs of anxiety or depression it’s worth taking them to one side over a cup of coffee and asking that they’re ok.

Signs of anxiety and depression:

  • loss of interest or no longer finding pleasure in activities or hobbies
  • persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • anger, irritability, or restlessness
  • feeling guilty or experiencing feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
  • difficulty controlling worry or fear
  • dread
  • panic

Other common injuries & illnesses:

  • Contact dermatitis: Painters and decorators, carpenters and joiners, and Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified all suffer from more than twice the all-industry rate of contact dermatitis.
  • Occupational asthma: Airborne materials from spray painting, welding, or cutting/grinding metals are among the contributory factors to those suffering from asthma.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Commonly caused by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dust and environmental pollution. Smoking is the single most important causative factor.
  • Occupational Cancer: most commonly mesothelioma, a form of cancer that follows the inhalation of asbestos fibres. The extensive use of insulation board containing brown asbestos (amosite) within buildings for fire protection purposes is a common cause found in today’s construction industry.
  • Occupational Deafness – from years of exposure to loud machinery

New MSD Assessment Tool

HSE has also just recently launched a new assessment tool which will allow workers to diagnose any musculoskeletal disorders.

The new musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) tool is an all-in-one digital solution for the well renowned MAC tool. They have designed the tool to simplify the process of completing each assessment by including a logical step by step approach, saving your assessors time in populating and interpreting the results manually.

The tool is available to both employers and safety representatives so they’re able to assess the risks posed by lifting, carrying and team manual handling activities. The assessor can then understand, interpret and categorise the level of risk, and implement the appropriate control measures.

To learn more about the tool please visit the HSE article by clicking here.