With coronavirus, material shortages and fire regulation among the issues currently pushing employee mental wellbeing further down the list of priorities, Jon Vanstone, chair of Certass, explains why business owners should not take their eye off the ball.
On average there are 38 fatalities a year on construction sites, with 2,000 major accidents incapacitating the worker so they cannot return to work. 2.4 million man-days are lost through injury or illness in our industry, and 46% of all occupational cancer cases in the UK are directly attributed to working in construction.
The pressure on our workers is, at times, immense and the growing impact of stress is being felt both at work and in our homes.
In discussions, installers often point at the need for industry bodies and trade shows to do more to help businesses combat the issue. I know that Certass will do whatever it can to improve this position, yet how do we inspire our collective glazing businesses to do more than the basics, when there is so much other pressure on the bottom line?
The expanding coronavirus concerns are dominating the industry headlines as supply of materials is met with increasing fear. Coming off the back of Grenfell-driven fire regulation issues, the need to focus on mental wellbeing of our workers has been forced down the board agendas.
In January 2017, Theresa May stated that: “More needs to be done so that employers provide the support needed for employees with mental health conditions.” This was followed by the Stevenson Farmer Review in October 2017 that said businesses needed to not only address but prevent mental ill health caused or worsened by work.
The platform seemed to be set to drive significant change throughout construction, yet progress has been as slow as a public enquiry. So much still needs to be done and even high-profile campaigns with royal ascent, such as the Heads Together campaign from Mind, are not having enough of an impact at a grass roots level.
A plethora of experts have stated the benefits to organisations attained by up-front investment in workplace health initiatives. Business leaders collectively believe in a responsibility both on a moral and economic position. We all know that by dealing with mental health we can positively impact the cost of sickness absence, presenteeism, staff turnover and productivity.
“The very uncertainty of today will only increase the pressure and worsen the mental wellbeing position”
Unfortunately, urgent situations that have arisen have pushed dealing with this concern into the long grass, relatively unsupported by a clear legislative position. However, it is the very uncertainty of today that will only increase the pressure on the construction workforce and worsen the mental wellbeing position.
Huge uncertainty is facing our industry. We know that with the introduction of a Building Safety Regulator, on-site pressure on commercial contracts will increase. We know that our collective failure rate is attracting the unwanted eyes of those who judge construction in residential environments, which will only lead to greater consumer worry. Our supply of materials will be impacted, work-sites will be impacted by virus related concerns and skilled workers are exiting our industry due to Brexit. The road ahead is uncertain and to traverse it we need to find ways of relieving the stress felt by those in our industry. We need to deal with the problem now.
The risk of suicide among low-skilled male construction labourers is three times higher than the male national average. And this statistical ratio will remain until we can change the collective culture, so that people feel safe enough to talk and get support when they need it.
Programmes of help can only be achieved through collective leadership and whilst our industry seems to be currently focussed elsewhere, the problem does not subside. Therefore, I urge business owners and leaders to build company programmes to improve mental health within the workplace from the information resources available now.
There is considerable information on the Mates in Mind website (www.matesinmind.org), so too the Mind site (www.mind.org.uk). For those looking for toolkit information, the Mental Health at Work one is excellent (www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/building-mental-health-in-construction/).
Where urgent help is required, the Construction industry helpline (www.constructionindustryhelpline.com) is a resource available to anyone connected to construction and their families, supporting people at times of stress and need. I would urge anyone who feels this may relate to them or their colleagues to find out more and make a difference. Together, we can make the change our industry needs.