Construction suffers from higher than average mental health issues.
Tara sirati crop
As noted in the 2017 government-commissioned report Thriving at Work, men working in construction and decorating are more than 35% more likely to take their own lives. Willmott Dixon Construction senior HS&E manager Shaun Atkins was quoted as saying: “In the predominately male construction industry, rates of suicide are particularly high, specific pressures include physically hard work, cold and harsh working environments, low pay, long hours, time pressures, job insecurity and a ‘macho’ culture.” The report found that poor mental health costs UK employers £42bn a year.
A range of internal and external factors can affect the volume and type of stress throughout the lifecycle of any engineering project. These can include financial or political constraints, environmental issues, governing regulations, and meeting corporation key performance indicators (KPIs), such as net revenue management; availability of competent technical resources; and deliverable dates. They can lead to a cycle of stress: stress negatively impacts efficiency, which directly influences financial targets, which then creates a stressful environment for the project team and individual members, and so on.
We are continuously encouraged to eliminate hazards, reduce risks and review any changes within a project that may have health and safety implications. Mental health is known to directly affect our physical abilities, so it only makes sense for mental health and safety to be as paramount as physical health and safety. This can have a positive impact on efficiency, cost and time involved within a project. It can also create a space for innovative ideas that can lead to better wellbeing for project end users.
Recently, we have witnessed a more concerted industry effort to promote mental health wellbeing and introduce new systems for the workplace. These include signing the “Time to Change” pledge, training mental health first aiders, stress management days, counselling sessions and many other initiatives.
Even though a huge step has been taken towards raising mental health awareness, we still need to create preventative measures and learn from previous statistics. Mental health wellbeing can be a well-defined KPI set in place by clients, involving good practice such as positive mental health promotion, appropriate management of colleagues who become ill, and vocational rehabilitation programmes for people with long term mental health difficulties. Leaders and individuals would then work hard to demonstrate the actions taken to ensure mental health wellbeing.
If we can illustrate the preventative steps we take, we can encourage a workforce that is aware of signs of mental health issues. We should focus on the positive impacts of mental health wellbeing on efficiency, innovation and cost of a project, as well as creating a mindful engineering workforce.
- Tara Sirati is ICE Wales Cymru GSNet representative