NCPS | Leaders ‘shocked’ by CN's mental health findings

Industry leaders have demanded urgent action on tackling mental health in the industry after “shocking” results in CN’s Mind Matters survey showed a quarter of people working in construction have considered suicide.

CN’s industry-wide survey found that more than a quarter of construction employees said they had considered taking their own life, rising to one in three among junior members of staff and graduates. In addition, one in seven have known a colleague who has taken their own life.

However, of those who had considered suicide and those who have known someone who has taken their own life, a staggering 90 per cent did not turn to their employer for support.

Dozens of survey respondents who said they had considered suicide said the reason they did not turn to their employer was due to “fear and stigma”. Another respondent said: “It’s not comfortable discussing this with my employer, plus I would fear for my job and I need to work.” Several respondents also said they could not go to their employer for help because they were themselves the employer.

The research also revealed that 55 per cent of construction workers had experienced mental health issues and 41 per cent had experienced these issues at their current place of work. This is more than double the national average.

Stigma surrounding mental health was highlighted in the survey with 82 per cent saying there is a taboo surrounding the issue in construction and many of those who have suffered admitting they had done so in silence. A third (29 per cent) had taken time off work due to stress/mental health issues, but only 32 per cent of these respondents told their employer the real reason for their absence.

One survey respondent said: “I begrudge having to book a week off work on holiday so I don’t have to announce to my line manager that I’m stressed/depressed. My line manager just thinks I’m slacking off work because there is no physical evidence of me being ill.”

The results have led to industry leaders calling for urgent action on tackling mental health issues in the construction industry including chief executives from the UK’s largest construction companies. Senior leaders from companies including Bam Nuttall and Robertson Group this week told CN about their own experiences with family members who have had mental health illnesses, while leaders from rail, highways and residential sectors have called for urgent action on mental health awareness.

ISG chief executive Paul Cossell said the results “add further hard data to the growing body of evidence that the construction industry has to address mental health issues with far greater rigour”. He said: “This is an overwhelmingly people-based industry, and while great strides have been taken to protect our employees from physical harm, it is clear we have to redouble our efforts in addressing mental health issues.”

Bam Construct UK health and safety director Andrea Singh described the results as “shocking”, while Robertson chief operating officer Derek Shewan called on the government to intervene. He said: “In the old days of rough, tough construction work, people would tend to ignore it. But this is not acceptable. We need to be addressing it and the survey results are concerning.”

Ms Singh said: “The statistics are high and higher than national averages. But I’m not surprised due to the nature and make-up of our industry. Construction is male-dominated and men tend to be less comfortable disclosing mental health.”

In January this year, Construction News vowed to make mental health awareness one of its core themes for 2017 with the launch of its editorial campaign, Mind Matters. The campaign comes at a time when mental health is being put under the spotlight by the media and government, with prime minister Theresa May and members of the Royal Family among those to speak out on the issue this year.

Last month, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed more than 1,400 construction workers took their own lives between 2011 and 2015– more than in any other industry. The data revealed that those working in construction were 63 per cent more likely to die by suicide than the national average.

Mace director of health and safety for construction Martin Coyd said CN’s survey showed the construction industry needs to improve its record fast. He said: “The whole industry needs to work together if we want to see progress and make a difference year on year. I believe the industry is ready to tackle this and we have a great opportunity right now.”

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