26 November 2021
Construction targeted by HSE mental health campaign

The construction industry is one of five sectors being targeted by a new mental health campaign from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Alongside the agriculture, health, manufacturing and motor trade sectors, the campaign will target six million employees and help 1.1 million small businesses to recognise signs of work-related stress and tackle the root problems behind it. The campaign has the backing of organisations ranging from Mind to the Federation of Small Businesses.

Not a new phenomenon

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that poor mental health has been associated with the construction industry. The high prevalence of stress and other issues has often been attributed to factors such as poor job security, unfair remuneration practices, tight deadlines and the endemic issue of late payment across the industry. In fact, a report from the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) revealed that 90% of construction leaders have suffered from poor mental health due to late payments, with a knock-on impact on workers and their families.

While mental health issues are by no means limited to the construction workforce (across all sectors, 17 million working days were lost due to anxiety, stress or depression in 2020), the fast-paced and pressured environment associated with this industry can contribute to higher levels of stress and anxiety. Statistics also show that the risk of suicide among site-based workers is three times the national average.

The five ‘Rs’

To help employers comply with their health and safety duties and do everything they can to reduce workplace-related stress, the campaign outlines a five-step process for businesses looking to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing at work:

  1. Reach out – although it’s uncomfortable, the first step is to open up conversations surrounding mental health with employees – and listen to the answers. The campaign website provides a useful ‘Talking Toolkit’ with a list of conversation topics addressing common workplace problems that may be causing stress for employees.
  1. Recognise – this step is all about observing employee behaviour and recognising the signs of stress. This might include a member of staff taking more time off than usual, appearing withdrawn, or struggling with motivation, commitment and confidence.
  1. Respond – once an issue has been identified, it’s time to take action. Whether this is encouraging your employee to talk to a manager, a colleague or their GP, or putting improvements in place to support both individual employees or the workforce as a whole, this is the step that shows you’re listening.
  1. Reflect – it’s important to check in with your employees to see whether the action you have taken is working. Ongoing reviews and adaptations play a significant part in ensuring that your staff continue to feel supported.
  1. Make it Routine – rather than asking once and considering it job done, it’s important to continue asking people how they are on a regular basis. It’s all about normalising these kinds of conversations about mental health.

Mental health is as important as physical health

Just as employers are legally responsible for preventing avoidable accidents in the workplace, these duties also extend to ensuring that their employees’ work environment does not contribute to excessive stress and other mental health problems. Chief Executive of HSE, Sarah Albon, said: “Work-related stress and poor mental health should be treated with the same significance as risks of poor physical health and injury. In terms of the effect it has on workers, significant and long-term stress can limit performance and impact personal lives.”

In construction, this is even more important, given that mental health issues can lead to poor concentration and tiredness, which in turn increases the likelihood of serious physical injury.