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.

Landscape of the construction site while it snows.

Construction work in winter

As we head into winter, the working environment for many construction workers is going to change and they’ll be faced with new challenges. The winter weather in the UK has the potential to hit construction workers hard, strong winds, freezing temperatures, snow, ice and lots of rain will all have an impact on the health and safety of workers on a site and workers must be aware of risks associated with bad weather.

As the UK weather is uncontrollable and unpredictable, taking precautions to ensure site operatives stay safe is essential.

 

Cold / Freezing temperatures:

Cold and freezing temperatures is the obvious weather-related obstacle that construction workers will have to face. Cold temperatures will mean workers will have to deal with cooling body temperatures and also skin which when combined with wet weather or damp can lead to illness. Making sure workers have the right clothing to combat this is crucial, high-quality water-proof clothing and lots of layers will help to maintain a warm body temperature and keep the rain out. Being exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time could lead to hypothermia, so try and make working in freezing conditions short and make sure there is somewhere warm for workers to take breaks.

It is also important to make sure that both feet and hands stay warm and dry. Allowing your feet to get damp can lead to serious hygiene issues such as trench boot and exposing hands to the cold all day can lead to frostbite, especially if you’re handling metals. Making sure workers have high-quality gloves and work boots where necessary is a simple and easy way to help mitigate these risks.

 

Civil Engineers At Construction Site In Winter

Civil Engineers at construction site are inspecting ongoing production according to design drawings.

High Winds / Storms:

Working at heights is already the most common cause of injury in construction and the dangers are increased dramatically during the winter months. High winds and stormy weather make working at height a lot more dangerous so making sure those who are asked to work at height have the necessary training is crucial.

Other risks associated with high winds can be debris that might be blown causing damage to the environment or people on site. Making sure risk assessments are complete to make people aware of the risks and putting procedures in place to reduce the risks are recommended.

 

Ice:

Perhaps the most dangerous risk workers will face during the winter is ice. Working from heights will be incredibly dangerous if ice is prominent on the area in which the workers are operating. It is also a slip hazard for anyone working on ice and those who are having to operate, or drive machinery will need to be made aware of the risks associated with icy conditions.

Excavator in the snow

A large excavator on a snowy construction site at night. Long exposure with light painting.

Winter is an extremely harsh time for those working in construction and the risks for injury are increased due to the cold conditions so make sure you’re aware of your environment and do what you can to reduce those risks and keep warm.

Tired construction worker wiping forehead at site in hot weather

Staying safe when working in the sun

Working in construction can mean you’re exposed to the sun for hours on end and if you’re not careful you could end up doing serious damage to your skin. Being exposed to UV light can lead to sunburn in the short term, which whilst painful will pass within a few days or weeks but in the long term being exposed to UV light without protection can lead to conditions such as skin cancer.

Damage to your skin is not the only risk when working in warm conditions. Being exposed to the heat for long durations can also lead to other issues such as dehydration which can lead to feeling unwell or fainting.

Who is most at risk?

Everyone is at risk of sunburn, heat stress or potentially skin cancer in the long term.

Despite that, there are those who are more likely to suffer from the sun than other. Those who have fair skin, freckles, red or fair hair and workers with a large number of moles are more at risk of developing skin conditions from prolonged sun exposure.

Sun cream:

The best and most common way to avoid damaging your skin is to use sun cream. If you’re being exposed to sunlight all day wearing sun cream is the best way to avoid sun burn and in the long term avoid issues such as skin cancer. Make sure you’re using the correct level of protection for your skin and the strength of the UV light on any particular day and ask others to help apply sun to areas such as your back if necessary.

Break in the shade:

In the UK you are legally entitled to an uninterrupted 20-minute break if you work for 6 hours or more per day, we suggest using this time to get some shade to help reduce the risk of damaging your skin. Having a short break or lunch break in the shade is a really easy way to give you skin a rest, especially at lunchtime (1 PM-3 PM) when the sun’s rays are at their peak.

Drink plenty of water:

Being exposed to warm temperatures and sunlight all day will likely mean your body is going to sweat to keep you cool, this will mean that you’re losing lots of fluid and it is incredibly important to replenish fluid lost. Making sure you’re drinking plenty of water is going to help keep you cool and avoid things such as dehydration.

For more information on how you can stay safe when working in the sun, check out this leaflet from HSE.