More than half a million people connected with the construction industry could be dealing with a mental health issue, according to a leading sector figure.
Speaking last week at the Safety and Health Expo, Martin Coyd OBE, Head of Health and Safety – Construction at Mace, said official figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 454 suicides in the sector in 2016.
Coyd also quoted another study, which claims one in four people each year have a mental health issue and added with 1.6 million people working on building sites every day in the UK and a further million people in supporting jobs, there could be between 600,000 and 700,000 people in the sector dealing with mental health issues.
“The statistics demonstrate we are the highest risk industry,” he told delegates.
“We find it difficult to recruit people,” explained Coyd. “We’re perceived to be a dirty industry. It’s very hard work. It’s not particularly well paid. The job security is poor. It’s Thursday today and an awful lot of construction workers will not know where they are going on Monday morning just yet. It’s that fickle an industry at this moment of time.”
Many people in the construction sector work away from home and Coyd added that half of the construction workforce in London are from elsewhere in the EU, away from their family and where they would normally go to get advice or help.
“If you ask a male ‘are you ok?’ They just say yes,” added Coyd.
“Particularly for a British male working in this environment, the expected answer is ‘I am absolutely fantastic, I’m ready to fight the world, how dare you even question me not operating at 100%’.
“It’s that fear of saying anything else but the perfect answer,” he explained. “I recognise that it takes enormous courage and strength to talk about how you are feeling. It’s not a weakness at all. It’s actually a strong character trait and my experience is when you give people the opportunity in a safe environment, they will take it. The suicide rates among males are particularly high because they don’t seek help. Women are more likely to talk about it, be treated, be diagnosed and move on.”
Coyd added that there are number of organisations out there who can offer help to those contemplating or affected by suicide, or just feeling down, including the Samaritans and the Construction Industry Helpline, where a lot of the people in the call centre have now been trained to recognise mental health issues and pass people on to where people can get.
He added that for construction workers under the age of 30, there is also a “fantastic organisation” called the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which uses “a language people can get their head round”.
“I am confident that out there today is something that will fit everybody and enable us to get simple, accessible support for our people. One thing that is really important is we have to educate people to identify signs in themselves and signs in colleagues and where they can get help.
“This is the best industry in the world,” added Coyd. “We create the most fantastic things. We impact everyday life. We are improving the world every minute of every day. There is so much to be proud of. With some simple steps, we can transform this environment and make a great industry even better.”
What makes us susceptible to burnout?
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.