Contractors are going on site to encourage employees to think about their health.
In these enlightened times it is more socially acceptable than ever for men to talk about their problems.
The rise of the metro-sexual is blurring the boundaries of masculinity and it is no longer just women who are happy to discuss health issues.
But it seems this open-mindedness has not yet reached the male-dominated world of construction, which is still seen as a last bastion of the traditional bloke, who would rather suffer in silence than admit he has health problems.
Unfortunately, this unwillingness to speak up about personal health costs the industry millions of pounds every year.
Health and Safety Executive statistics show that in 2006/07 2.8 million days were lost to work-related illnesses and injury, equating to nearly one and-a-half days per worker.
This month saw the launch of construction giant Kier’s Men’s Health Month. Kier is visiting 21 sites up and down the country with a roadshow aimed at promoting health awareness in men.
The roadshow offers workers a 10-minute check-up by a nurse and instant feedback on
the results by an occupational health expert.
‘It’s a macho thing’
As well as covering the basics, such as blood pressure and body fat index, advice is offered on a range of health issues – from how to check for testicular cancer, to what constitutes a healthy diet.
But why are men still so reluctant to come forward and speak up when they have concerns?
Kier’s occupational health and safety adviser, Caroline Jones, believes there is still a stigma attached to men talking about their personal wellbeing, and the key to solving the problem is simply a case of better education about the consequences
of poor health.
“Men don’t like to talk about their problems. It’s a macho thing. On a site of 150 men you can lose five men in a day off sick because they have hurt themselves and not told anyone about it. By carrying on they have made themselves even worse.
“With things like testicular cancer it may mean they will lose a ball. Men hate to think of anything like that. They would rather not check in case they do find a lump.
“We need to make them aware that the chances of avoiding surgery are much higher if you catch these things early,” Ms Jones says.
Painter and decorator Michael Jennings of S & B Decorating was at the Norwich leg
of the tour.
“I found it really helpful. I check myself when I am in the shower but the rubber model they use gives a better idea of what to look out for. It has also made me more aware of skin cancer and how important it is to use sunscreen,” he says.
Culture of fear
FM Conway’s safety, health, environment and quality manager, Sharon Field, adds that part of the problem is the long hours people in the construction industry work.
“A lot of men get to work before the local surgery is open and, by the time they get home, wash and change, they can’t be bothered to go. It is totally understandable.
“The solution is to go directly to the sites. Most men will get checked out if the opportunity is on their doorstep.”
The firm was a finalist at Construction News’ Quality in Construction awards for occupational health.
Another, more worrying, concern is a belief among construction workers that they risk being fired if they do come forward with an ailment that will result in days off work.
According to Kier’s group occupational health manager and roadshow mastermind, Jackie Muir, this culture of fear needs to be overcome if any progress is to be made. She believes a lack of awareness of what occupational health is lies at the root of the problem.
“Workers in the industry think it is a stick management can use to beat them around the head with. It’s not.
“We are here to give them as much advice as we give their managers in better managing their health. It is essential we get that message across,” she says.
Due to the physically demanding nature of the job, Ms Muir believes there is a common, albeit understandable, misconception that site workers need to stock up on sugary snacks to boost energy levels.
“One of the things we have noticed is how shocked a lot of them are at the body fat results,” she says.
“What we are doing is showing them the consequences of a poor diet and how improving
their lifestyle and diet will lower the chances of things like bowel cancer.
“Small changes can have a huge impact. For example, bringing fruit to work instead
of going to the cafe.
“These are basic steps but they can have a huge effect on you in later life.”
People want to improve their lifestyles
Launched as part of Men’s Health Forum’s Health Week the Kier roadshow is a significant move for the company as it is the first time it has visited sites directly.
As well as general advice on sexual health and diet, qualified nurses were on hand to carry out a ‘Mini Health MoT’ including:
■ Health check covering height, weight and body mass index
■ Blood pressure checks
■ Lung function test
■ Skin inspection
■ Early cancer detection techniques – aided by replica rubber testicles.
Ms Muir would not be drawn on the cost of the initiative but said the budget was nowhere near enough. But she believes its popularity will give her the clout to make it a regular feature.
“This is hopefully just the start of an ongoing process. We are visiting 21 sites and the demand has been huge. At the Milton Keynes Academy site we were inundated, seeing 90 out of 150 site workers.
“I believe there is a genuine desire among workers to be a part of this. People want to improve their lifestyles but are sometimes not sure where to start. We can give them the knowledge to make healthy choices,” she says.
Reactions from site workers have been positive. John Ackerman, an electrician for Kier subsidiary Wallis, was one of many who visited the Kings Cross roadshow and was impressed by the information on offer. “There was tons of information and it is excellent to encourage builders to be open-minded about health. You might have someone who thinks he is the fittest bloke going and then finds out he isn’t – it’s a wake-up call,” he says.
To download ‘men and work’ mini health manual click on the resource box on the right hand side of the page.
For details of hard copies of the guide contact the Men’s Health Forum www.menshealthforum.org.uk.