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.

Mental Health in the Workforce

Mental Health in Construction

Mental health in construction workers is a topic that isn’t often covered due to the nature of the working environment. However, the mental health of all workers in all sectors should be paramount to employers and having an open-door approach is a great way to get your employees to talk about issues they may have.

Construction work can mean workers are often exposed to high-pressure situations, such as working from height in windy conditions or having to use potentially dangerous machinery. These situations can be stressful enough but can be made ten times worth if the correct health & safety procedures and equipment aren’t available or put in place.

Another big contributor for stress in construction can be late payments, meaning you and your employees might be strained financially which can cause a lot of stress and pressure on you the employer as well as your employee that you’re responsible for.

The Statistics:

Suicide is the biggest killer for males under 45 in the UK and 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.

 

Spotting Stress, Depression & Anxiety

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, feeling safe with the machinery 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 within the construction industry isn’t easy, but 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

Taking actions:  

Make sure if anyone is showing signs of anxiety, depression or stress on-site that you’re open with them and ask if everyone is ok or what the issue may be, although this can be difficult in the construction industry due to the nature and environment that those work in.

Another good option that could be worth your time is to set up an employee assistance programme (EAP) where employees are able to talk to someone about the issues they may be facing anonymously and making sure staff are aware of the EAP system and how to go about speaking to someone.

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

Shot of a young businessman experiencing stress during late night at work

Spotting and coping with work related stress

No matter who you are, stress can have a massive impact on you and the people around you. Almost everyone will have some type of stress in their life, whether it’s from work, relationships, home life or perhaps an event or occasion.

Work-place stress can, however, be one of the most damaging as it is extremely hard to avoid with lots of people spending most of their time in the workplace.

What is stress?

HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

Workplace stress usually occurs when a person feels they’re unable to cope with tasks that are assigned to them or the working environment. There is a responsibility on employers to make sure that a person who is asked to complete any given task is happy and comfortable to do so. It is also on the employer to make sure that the person has all of the given qualifications or skills needed to complete the task.

There are six main causes of stress which employers should manage and look into potential risks before finalising any plans. The areas are:

  • Demands
  • Control
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role
  • Change

Signs of stress

Stress can be extremely hard to spot as lots of people express their stress in different ways. Age, gender, experience and disability are all factors that may contribute to how someone deals with stressful situations, but people tend to hide their stress and that can lead to a potential outburst when it eventually becomes too much.

As an employer, here are a few things to look out for within your business:

  • Arguments
  • Higher staff turnover
  • More reports of stress
  • More sickness absence
  • Decreased performance
  • More complaints and grievances

If you as an employer are beginning to notice any of these creeping into the workplace it is worth setting up meetings or one to ones to help surface any issues so they can be resolved.

Stress can also fall on individuals, here are some signs that a person may be struggling with stress:

  • Take more time off
  • Arrive for work later
  • Be more twitchy or nervous
  • Mood swings
  • Being withdrawn
  • Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
  • Increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Again, if you notice any of these signs it may be worth taking some time out to make sure that they’re ok and if the cause of stress if coming from the workplace try to resolve any issues.

 

Dealing with stress

Managing stress is much easier said than done but there are things you can do to try and help minimise the stress you’re under. Firstly, try and find out what the source of the stress is, it may sound simple but if you know what is causing your stress it is much easier to do something about it.

Once you have identified the cause it’s important to do what you can to try and sort it and if work is causing you to stress you may need to change the environment which you work in. This could include things like making sure you take breaks, only undertaking tasks you feel comfortable with and talking to your manager or colleagues if you are unsure of what is required. You may even have to use bullying or grievance procedures if it is a particular person that is causing the stress.

Here are a few ways you can help yourself to reduce stress:

  • Try to have a good relationship with colleagues to create an open environment in which you can raise concerns.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with your role and if a task is causing you stress,  talk to others who may be able to help.
  • Take time to organise your workload and give yourself more time to complete more difficult or time-consuming tasks.
  • Say no – be comfortable with saying no if a task is too difficult or you do not have time to complete it.
  • Make sure to take your breaks and if you can get away from the office, whether that means going for a walk or just sitting outside / in your car.
  • Maintain a healthy work/life balance. Do not let work consume your life. Try to make time to do things you enjoy.
  • Try to learn how to not stress over factors you have no control over and look for a positive outcome in all situations.

 

Dealing with stress on your own isn’t easy though and airing your feelings might be difficult but one other are aware it is a big step to going in the right direction. It’s not just your responsibility though and employers and colleagues should be looking out for anyone that might be showing signs of stress and do what they can to help.

If you have noticed someone in your workplace showing signs of stress it’s important to try and talk to them, asking if they’re ok or what you can do to help could be the nudge they need to open up and talk about the issues they’re having and from that point, you can work to fixing or reducing some of the causes.

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.

Man suffering from working stress

Health is safety

As we begin the third lockdown in the UK, Lot’s of staff are going to be forced back to working from home and potentially working and being alone for the next few weeks. This means it’s much harder for you to check your staff are happy and safe, which will be increasingly important not just physically, but also mentally.

Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:

  • ·      as delivery drivers, health workers or engineers
  • ·      as security staff or cleaners
  • ·      in warehouses or petrol stations
  • ·      at home

 

Risks:

 

There are always going to be greater risks with lone workers as they don’t have anyone to assist should something go wrong and for most of the cases above, risk assessments would have likely been put in place to help with their health and safety. For example, one of the most common areas of lone workers at risk is van or delivery drivers, due to the road risks and the fact they are on their own.

 

Another may be violence. Is someone being asked to work in a violent area with expensive equipment which may cause them to be robbed? All of these areas should be thought about and part of the risk assessment that you as an employer will need to do.

 

Mental Health:

 

Another area that employers will need to consider is the mental health of their workers. If the UK is forced to self-isolate, then there will be people who will be forced into an environment which they may not feel comfortable with.

 

Working from home may be an attractive idea to some, but if you are suffering from mental health issues having to work alone at home may make you feel vulnerable and not having a normal routine may lead a person to suffer from anxiety. They may also not have the power or access to do certain aspects of their job which could also lead to stress.

 

With no one around to see rising levels of anxiety or stress it will be incredibly hard for anyone to know how they’re feeling and help. They will also not able to leave their new working environment and take a break if the government encouraging everyone to stay indoors, which could make matters worse.

 

The employer’s role:

 

Lone working is something that many people across the world do and there are plenty of measures that are in place already, such as risk assessments for drivers, that enable people to work on their own safely.

However, with the spread of Coronavirus looking to have an impact on the whole of the country, health has never been more important. Both the physical and mental health of your workers is going to be important if we are put into self-isolation and it’s partly your responsibility as an employer to make sure that all your staff feel safe and comfortable in what they’re being asked to do and that you are open and approachable so they are not left feeling vulnerable.

As an employer here are a few things you can do to make sure all your staff are ok:

  • ·      Have daily contact with all your staff, checking in on them at least once per day
  • ·      Make sure all employees have all the required training to work from home
  • ·      Do you best to make sure they can function as normally as possible, being unable to complete necessary tasks due to equipment could lead to stress.
  • ·      If someone is struggling with mental health, see what help is available.
  • For all the latest Coronavirus updates around health and safety, click here. 

    For SMAS Worksafe updates please use the below sources. 

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