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Carillion CEO: What contractors must do on mental health

The figures revealed by the Construction News mental health survey are both startling and worrying.

Behind every number, there is a person. Someone who works alongside us, a close colleague, a line manager or a supplier who we may feel we know. While these statistics are a cause for concern, the good news is that the industry is waking up to the challenge we face to tackle this serious issue.

In the same way that we are relentless about health and safety issues to protect the physical wellbeing of our people, we need to be equally relentless in our drive to tackle mental health issues. This is a conversation we must have from the site office to the boardroom and one in which senior industry figures must be active.

Signs of change

Our industry is traditionally male-dominated, with lots of pressure. That background has meant that historically we haven’t been great at creating a working environment in which people who have mental health issues can easily find support. However, I believe this is beginning to change, and at Carillion we have made mental health a core part of our Health Like Safety strategy.

We recently invited people to volunteer to train as mental health first aiders and within an hour of seeking volunteers there were around 400 applications.

The first group of ‘mental health first aiders’ has now been trained and our initial plan is to train 185 people who will be available to offer support across the country. They are not mental health professionals but trained volunteers who can spot the signs of mental health issues and are able to offer help and support to colleagues, and if necessary point them in the direction of professional help.

Battling perceptions

The big challenge, however, remains the stigma that is still attached to mental health issues.

“The actions we take can provide real positive benefits and support to the men and women we work alongside every day”

We need to understand that mental health is something we all have – and just as our physical health can vary, so too can our mental health. It is crucial to create a working environment in which people understand mental health issues and feel able to talk about them. This will help shift people’s attitudes and tackle that stigma head-on.

We are committed to addressing the issue of mental health among our workforce. Our Stress and Mental Health Charter underpins Carillion’s commitment and provides a framework for support.

As part of this, we are providing our people with a range of tools and information, including pocket cards with advice to help people deal with stress, mental health topics in our regular toolbox talks, and an online stress awareness training course.

These efforts and those of others in the industry to raise awareness of mental health issues may not be as high-profile as the recent interventions by Princes William and Harry, but the actions we take can provide real positive benefits and support to the men and women we work alongside every day.

Richard Howson is chief executive of Carillion

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