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Industry leaders: We need to do more on mental health

Industry leaders have demanded radical changes in how the sector approaches mental health and warned the industry was not doing enough to tackle the issue.

It is estimated that the number of deaths from suicide in the construction industry could be 10 times higher than those from fatal accidents at work.

Construction workers this week told CN about their personal struggles with mental health issues.

CN has vowed to make mental health awareness one of its core themes for 2017 and launched an editorial campaign, Mind Matters.

HSE chief executive Martin Temple said it was “clear that not enough is being done” by the construction industry to raise the profile of mental health – and that change needed to start at the top.

He added: “It is very important that the leaders of the industry come together and support this issue because these are the people who can make things happen. It is vital that leaders set the tone of the debate.”

Mr Temple added that tier one contractors and clients needed to raise awareness of mental health at smaller companies that are traditionally “difficult to reach”.

“There is no doubt that industry leaders – the big companies – can have a massive influence along the supply chain,” he said.

“Clients can also encourage those smaller companies to think not only about delivering the contract, but delivering it in the proper way.”

Mace associate director Warren Alexander-Pye, who has experienced mental health issues himself, said the industry had picked up some “bad habits” which had a negative impact on the mental health of its workforce.

“There is a culture of confrontation and bravado in our industry,” he said.

“When you’re on site and dealing with contract, programme and money issues as well as site progress, there’s a lot of locking horns and sparring between people. This is not collaborative or constructive.”

Mr Alexander-Pye said “more intelligent planning” was needed when selecting a workforce for a project, in order to reduce commuting time. He said long days, including the pressure that senior management can place on workers to be on site from 8am to 6pm every day, “exerts a huge amount of pressure”.

Tideway health, safety and wellbeing director Steve Hails agreed that more needed to be done by business leaders to raise the profile of mental health in the industry.

“There needs to be an awareness at senior levels of organisations of the importance of managing and identifying mental ill health,” Mr Hails said.

“It is absolutely important for senior management to share their experiences.”

Mr Hails is also one of the five founders of the Health in Construction Leadership Group, and spoke at last week’s launch of its mental health programme, Mates in Mind.

It will offer training packages to raise awareness and educate the industry on what mental health is and how to support those who are experiencing mental health issues. Free 45-minute inductions on mental health will be offered across the whole of the industry.

Other packages will be offered with a small fee attached, including training for supervisors, courses for volunteers to become mental health first aiders, training to help people support those who have suicidal thoughts, and programmes for managers.

“The idea of Mates in Mind is that there is a common programme on mental health that can be rolled out across the industry,” Mr Hails said.

“With a transient workforce, workers will be able to recognise the Mates in Mind brand no matter where they are and know where to go to seek help and support.”

Land Securities health and safety director Clive Johnson, who also sits on the HCLG board, said that from a client’s perspective, it was in the interests of companies to “create an environment where people can talk about mental health and make a big impact”.

He added: “We also have a moral duty to work with contractors to get them engaged into these programmes.”

Balfour Beatty senior planner Christina Riley, who also chairs the firm’s LGBT & Allies Group and campaigns for mental health awareness, said it was important to address how the industry made an impact on the mental health of its LGBT workers.

She said: “There is a high suicide rate amongst the LGBT community. People get depressed because they can’t come out at home or at work, which contributes to depression and anxiety.

“I’ve been out as a transgender person for two-and-a-half years, but I’ve had 20 years of anxiety through keeping this a secret. I didn’t feel safe to come out.”

Ms Riley said “inclusive policies” for LGBT people could help reduce this stress and anxiety.

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