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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.