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September 5, 2016

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Case study: Laing O’Rourke and Mind

mental-1389919_960_720Silvana Martin, HSE Strategy and Best Practice Manager, Laing O’Rourke talks about the company’s partnership with mental health charity, Mind and how mental health is moving up the agenda.

Laing O’Rourke

Laing O’Rourke has more than 100 workplaces in the UK – a mixture of construction and infrastructure projects, manufacturing facilities, plant depots and offices. It employs approximately 5,000 tradespeople and operatives, along with a further 3,500 professional and office-based staff.

As a direct employer, Laing O’Rourke is unique among its industry peers. This model provides a number of advantages – especially in relation to health and safety. For example, with workers likely to remain in the company longer, the business’s occupational health interventions can be more impactful, with monitoring programmes providing more meaningful information over time.

However, Laing O’Rourke’s workforce is disproportionately at risk of mental health issues – because, like the rest of the industry, the vast majority of its employees are male.

But it isn’t just about demographics. There are other factors at play. In the high-pressure and often harsh working environment of the construction site, talk of emotions can seem like a sign of weakness. In common with many sections of society, there remains a stigma attached to mental illness, meaning many who suffer do so in silence.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (2013) show that rate of suicide among men is more than three times higher than women – with the biggest group being men aged 45 to 59. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales (24% of total deaths in 2013) and men aged 35-49 (13%).

In 2014/15 there were 69,000 cases of self-reported illness in the construction industry, costing £1.3bn in lost working days. 20% of these were related to mental health. Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a fall from height.

Partnership with Mind

In October 2015, Laing O’Rourke partnered with mental health charity, Mind. Since then, the business has taken a number of practical steps towards tackling some of these issues.

So far, 180 managers have received mental health awareness training. A new online mental health resource centre has been created on the company intranet, with downloadable factsheets and links to services including confidential counselling.

On 4 February (Time to Talk Day) a dedicated mental health ‘toolbox talk’ was launched to the site-based workforce. The business’s employee assistance provider also hosted a special stress-management webinar for staff.

To maintain momentum, Laing O’Rourke is recruiting a team of mental health champions from across the business. These volunteers will be essential in challenging stigma in the workplace, making conversations about mental health commonplace and encouraging those who need help to feel comfortable asking for it.

Time to Change

In May 2016, Laing O’Rourke signed the Time to Change pledge. The event was attended by 200 of its project leaders and senior managers. Joining them was CEO of Mind, Paul Farmer, who said: “With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue in the UK every year, there absolutely is a business case for us to talk more openly about mental health and to support our colleagues who may be experiencing a mental health issue”.

Laing O’Rourke is among 300 organisations to have signed the pledge. To qualify, the business was required to prepare a detailed mental health action plan

Silvana Martin, health and safety strategy and best practice manager for Laing O’Rourke said: “Our industry has an issue with mental health. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We’ve got to start talking about it. Normalising it. Making it a part of every-day conversation. It’s not enough simply making our people aware of the services on offer, if they don’t feel comfortable accessing them. They need to know that, if they are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression or any other condition, the company will support them.”

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, said: “It is fantastic that more and more employers are showing their support in tackling the stigma experienced by people with mental health problems. Employers and their staff can all play a part in helping to stamp out stigma.

“Many leading employers have found that making a strategic commitment to the mental wellbeing of their workforce not only has benefits for their staff but also benefits their bottom-line, improving productivity and staff retention. It’s time for businesses to work on their approach and start creating more mentally healthy workplaces.”

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.

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