Mental Health – An Employer's Responsibility

07 February 2020
Mental health is a huge issue in the UK construction industry. According to statistics, men who work on construction sites are six times more likely to die by suicide than from falling from a great height. Shockingly, on average, two workers kill themselves each working day. That is a terrible statistic and, whilst the industry has seen a huge increase in awareness of the issue of mental health and male suicide, the question is, is enough being done to help and improve the situation?

The mental health of staff is an important issue for all employers, whether they’re in construction or not. One of the big issues around mental health is identifying when a person is struggling, and the construction industry has to be applauded for the progress it has made over the last couple of years in terms of raising awareness and driving people to talk more.

Industry mental health charity Lighthouse Club has said it experienced a 56 per cent increase in calls to its Construction Industry Helpline during 2019. Their helpline cards have been distributed to almost 600,000 people and their app has been downloaded over 20,000 times. The Lighthouse Club aims to deliver proactive interventions to ensure that situations do not reach a life-critical stage.

In the Construction News 2019 Mind Matters survey, almost half of respondents (48.3 per cent) had taken time off work because of unmanageable stress and mental health issues. The survey asked what factors contribute to workers experiencing poor mental health. The top three responses were long hours, job uncertainty and tight deadlines – all factors related to the working environment. These stats prove that it is a growing problem which is not going to go away overnight, if anything, the more we ignore it, the worse it will get.

The Crossrail Health and Safety team produced six short films designed to encourage a focus on some of the health impacts and safety risks that construction workers face. Whilst these stories are fictional, they are really hard-hitting videos and I encourage you to watch ‘Steve's story’ in particular -

One of the biggest challenges around mental health is identifying that someone needs urgent help and Gary’s story is a really good example of how people hide what is really going on. Sometimes all it takes is someone to take the time to ask the right question and to actively listen to the answer, no matter what is said. We should all be doing more of this. ‘Simple answers sometimes hide a difficult reality’.

At VJT we take mental health issues extremely seriously and, rather than just talking about the issue, we want to understand the impact on the individual so that we can provide effective support to all of our employees. We have policies in place which encourage respectful and appropriate work behaviour not just amongst our employees, but also our customers, suppliers, and stakeholders.

Whilst the mental health of construction workers needs to be improved, it’s important to recognise that there are issues in every sector in the UK and every country around the world. At VJT we acknowledge that there are many discussions taking place about what can and should be done, but there is a long way to go.

In general, it is important to create opportunities to connect, to feel seen and heard. Communication and active listening play a part in anything we do and sometimes just listening to someone who is going through difficulties can make a significant difference. With this in mind, we have decided to do more than just talk about the problem of mental health at VJT. We now have two trained Mental Health Ambassadors within the business who our employees can speak to and discuss any issues they’re experiencing and get the support they need. Sometimes, the first step in helping someone recover is letting them know that you are here to support them, and they don’t have to suffer in silence. To any of our employees who are experiencing mental health issues, we want them to know that we care, and they are not alone.

This mental health training is part of an ongoing process within VJT to help improve the mental health of our employees. We don’t want anyone to suffer in silence and it’s important that we make necessary changes which will ensure that our employees are happy, not only at work but also in their personal life.

I will leave you with this quote from the Public Health Executive (PHE) chief executive, Duncan Selbie: “I urge all employers, large or small, public or private sector, to treat mental health as seriously as physical health. Early action can stop any employees reaching a desperate stage. Simple actions can make a huge difference – talking with a manager or colleague can help people get the support they need and, ultimately, save lives.”

We should all remember; it is ok to not be ok. So, let’s keep talking and, most importantly, let’s start listening.

Let us know what your company does to aid mental health here.