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Standing down to wise up on mental health

The industry’s first health, safety and wellbeing stand-down has highlighted some of construction’s most emotive issues – and how contractors and clients can improve how construction works.

On every construction site across the country, each day brings its own deadlines.

These might be anything from managing the delivery and storage of materials to getting a concrete pour done or putting up steelwork in a tight timeframe.

With so many pressing concerns, stopping to take a moment to talk about something other than project delivery can be at the bottom of many firms’ agendas.

That’s why this year’s first Stop. Make a Change safety stand-down has been so important.

The initiative, organised by CECA and supported by the CITB’s structured fund, saw the first industry-wide stand-down of its kind take place on 18 April.

With four core topics – mental health, fatigue, plant safety and respiratory health – the day aimed to help the industry open up on what can be difficult subjects to address and help firms make a change for the better.

Here, three firms that took part in the stand-down reflect on what Stop. Make a Change has achieved – and what more the industry can do to tackle four challenging areas.

Gatwick’s 400-strong stand-down

Gatwick Airport has some the UK’s biggest contractors on site at any given time.

Among the firms working on its £750m framework, awarded last July, are Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try, Kier, Vinci and Wates, while some of the UK’s leading subcontractors are also on site, including SSE Contracting and Gratte Brothers.

Other firms working at Gatwick include Costain, which is delivering a £120m redevelopment of the airport’s railways station, as well as Bam Nuttall and Interserve.

You might think that getting all of these firms to down tools and talk about mental health – the core topic focused on for Gatwick’s stand-down – would have proved difficult. But on the day, Gatwick found this simply wasn’t the case.

Evan Hathaway, who leads the environment and health and safety programmes for Gatwick’s construction and development teams, says addressing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has been one of the client’s core aims so far this year.

Gatwick airport stop make a change

Gatwick airport stop make a change

He says the topic was first raised at the client’s monthly supply chain forum. These meetings, which can have anything between 20 and 30 contractors in the room, see the teams discuss either environment, health or safety issues on a monthly basis.

“At our February forum we said we wanted to do something for Stop. Make a Change and a lot of people raised their hands,” he says.

Gatwick then put together a high-level overview of what it thought the programme could be, based on the four topics in Stop. Make a Change.

The contractors at the forum put forward what they thought would be best practice for each of the four themes. Each then did a presentation to their operatives on their chosen topic, and spent time talking to their staff on how Gatwick and its contractors could improve the approach to each of the issues.

“We expected 250 people, but 400 showed up from 35 different contractors”

Evan Hathaway, Gatwick Airport

This also extended to inviting third-party firms to get involved with the day, including hire firm Speedy to talk about respiratory health, and HSS to discuss plant safety.

But as Tuesday’s event came around, Gatwick found that the engagement from the supply chain on Stop. Make a Change was much stronger than anticipated.

Mr Hathaway says Gatwick saw the initiative as an opportunity to reach a wider audience and “remove some of the stigma” around talking about mental health – but the response from the supply chain was beyond expectations. “We expected 250 people, but 400 showed up from 35 different contractors,” he says.

He adds that attendees weren’t just from tier one businesses, but from subcontractors and their suppliers too. “400 is impressive but the biggest piece for us is being able to reach 35 different companies, which can then feed it down to their supply chain as well,” he adds.

Mr Hathaway says the issues that Stop. Make a Change has raised has helped Gatwick push on with its own health and wellbeing training programmes, and has improved its engagement with its supply chain.

“We can sit here as a client and say what’s important to us, but it doesn’t affect contractors unless you ask them what they want,” he says. “The day for us was about getting the supply chain’s feedback, and for them to let us know what’s important. And it means in the coming months, we can work on that and then feed back to [them].”

Revealed: Mental health survey results

CN will this week publish the shocking results of our industry-wide mental health survey as part of the Mind Matters campaign. Look out for this plus in-depth analysis and comment from industry leaders.

‘Talk to us’

Like Gatwick Airport, Cemex’s quarry at Dove Holes in Derbyshire was one of the sites to take part in Stop. Make a Change.

Construction News visited the site as part of the initiative, with the materials supplier focusing on mental health, fatigue and stress in the workplace.

The training session, led by the quarry’s production manager Hayden Gill, rammed home some of the key issues around mental health and broke down a difficult topic into a simple, hard-hitting conversation with the staff present.

“If you break your leg you go to the doctor,” he said. “If you’ve hurt your teeth, you go to the dentist. So if you’re stressed or you need help, you should talk to us.”

The training materials were compiled by Cemex’s health and safety manager Julie Welch, who explains that tackling mental health in the workplace had been one of the firm’s core areas of focus in the run-up to Stop. Make a Change, with Cemex looking at rolling out mental health first-aider training across the business.

Cemex stop make a change dove holes quarry 1

Cemex stop make a change dove holes quarry 1

She says that two areas of focus – stress in the workplace and sleeping well – both form part of Cemex’s 12 health essentials, meaning that tackling these alongside mental health as part of Stop. Make a Change “made a lot of sense”.

“We already cover respiratory health and plant safety so looking at mental health was important. We did one pilot for mental health first aider training at the end of March, and we’re looking at a strategy on how we can move that training forward throughout the business,” she says.

Cemex is also now looking at bespoke training for mental health first aiders, tailored to its specific needs in terms of what its managers need to look out for on site.

“We’re looking at how we can move mental health training forward throughout the business”

Julie Welch, Cemex

The Stop Make a Change training took place not just at Dove Holes, but at Cemex sites across the country. Ms Welch says the feedback from the other sites had been strong: “For such a difficult topic, the guys really did get involved with it and there were people asking for contact details for charities including Mind.”

She adds that Cemex would be interested in repeating the event in future.

What it’s all about

In the North-west, Bury-based civil engineering and building firm Cheetham Hill Construction got involved with Stop. Make a Change and training sessions across all four topics took place at every one of its sites.

Managing director Adrian Taylor adds that the training was not just limited to the firm’s sites, with the same briefings taking place for office staff that included open and honest feedback from staff.

A key element of Stop. Make a Change has been for firms to make targets for the future, with Cheetham Hill now planning to provide bi-annual occupational health nurse visits for all sites, including the head office. The firm will also provide a monthly occupational health programme of interactive talks across the business to get its staff talking about mental health.

And for the industry, that’s what Stop. Make a Change has been all about: making it stop to think about how it can start talking about mental health, and measures that can improve wellbeing for its workforce.

Let’s hope that last week’s event was just the start.

Cemex stop make a change dove holes quarry 2

Cemex stop make a change dove holes quarry 2

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