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Mental health: 6 steps to support your workforce

Every working day, two construction workers take their own lives.

Yes, you read that statistic correctly. And nearly 400,000 worker-days are lost every year due to poor mental health.

Recent research has put the mental health of our industry high on the agenda. But many firms feel that the subject matter is too complex and don’t know where to start when tackling the issue. In some cases, they are concerned they will be overwhelmed by the issues that may arise in addressing mental health.

The Considerate Constructors Scheme has already instigated a points structure to recognise the importance of good mental health on site. It can be expected that in future, all client tenders will require evidence of initiatives relating to improving mental health.

Furthermore, the potential productivity gains to be made by reducing the number of days off work due to stress, anxiety or depression is a sound commercial imperative.

So how can you get started?

Step 1: Senior management commitment.

To undertake an improvement project of this nature, it is essential to demonstrate a commitment to improve the welfare of the workforce.

Best practice: Senior management should sign a charter of improvement and make this public for all to see.

Step 2: Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

There are many schemes offering a range of benefits for employees and most offer a confidential helpline to discuss mental health issues and offer counselling. If individuals are introduced at an early stage, the outcomes are very positive.

“At some point in the future there may well be legislation to ensure a set number of mental health first aiders on site”

Clearly communicate what you EAP scheme offers, and if you don’t have the resources to introduce your own EAP scheme, then order some Construction Industry Helpline cards and posters from the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity or the Considerate Constructors Scheme.

These packs also provide a list of other helpline numbers for issues including bereavement, relationships, cancer support and financial advice.

Step 3: Prepare a toolbox talk

A toolbox talk to raise awareness of good mental health needs to be under one hour long and should be interactive.

The objective is to get the workforce to talk to each other and recognise when somebody is struggling.

Best practice: Deliver your toolbox talk to all your employees and subcontractors. There is also a self-paced online course available through the Considerate Constructors Scheme.

Step 4: In-depth training for people managers

This form of mental health training is often a half-day course and will help managers identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness, training them how to handle the conversation and where to signpost help.

Best practice: Many organisations offer this training but the only one accredited by the CITB is the Mental Health First Aid England course. Companies registered for the levy can claim back the material costs.

Step 5: Mental health first aiders

At some point in the future there may well be legislation to ensure a set number of mental health first aiders on site in proportion to the number of workers. A ratio of one mental health first aider to every 100 workers has been suggested.

“There is always room for improvement and the best practice here is to look out for other company’s best practice”

Best practice: The Mental Health First Aid England two-day intensive course is currently the only course accredited by the CITB. The industry recognises that if there is a huge uptake in this initiative then there will be a shortage of training courses, but the good news is that the CITB is ready to respond and there may be announcements of an accelerated programme soon.

Step 6: Share your knowledge and experience

If you can complete the above steps then you will have a robust mental health programme. But there is always room for improvement and the best practice here is to look out for other company’s best practice.

Again, the Considerate Constructors Scheme offers free access to its best practice hub and has a range of case studies on this subject.

It is vitally important that, as an industry, we all do something to improve the mental health of our workforce. Let’s shoulder this moral responsibility and start making a difference today.

More detailed information about building positive mental health in your organisation can be found at www.BuildingMentalHealth.net/resources

Bill Hill is chief executive of the Lighthouse Construction Charity 

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