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Poor mental health, more accidents


It was Mental Health Awareness Week from 13 to 19 May, and among the stories that caught our attention was a survey by insurer QBE. The survey suggests that of the UK’s 3.1 million construction workers, 682,000 – or 22% - have sustained injuries while suffering from poor mental health.


While there is a lot of extrapolation involved in that figure – the survey, conducted by Opinion Research, involved 362 workers - common sense says that if someone’s mind isn’t totally focussed while carrying out a potentially dangerous task, there is higher risk of injury.  The QBE research found that 50% of construction workers often worked in potentially dangerous situations such as operating machinery or working at height while experiencing poor mental health.


Now some procurers are starting to assess contractors on their mental health policies at tender.  In March this year, Halton Borough Council announced that all future construction tenders would require the main contractor to include a statement on the mental health of staff and subcontractors, which would be scored. Halton believes it is the first council to do this.


Other research, conducted by software company Causeway in November 2023, also indicates a similar level of risk. Its survey of 1,439 construction workers, carried out by visiting sites found that 56% of them had experienced mental health problems. The top five mental health problems were anxiety, depression, fatigue linked to low mood, lack of self-confidence and feeling overwhelmed – all of which can impact on concentration.


Many tier 1 construction companies already have mental health policies in place, including measures such as mental health first aiders and help lines for their own and supply chain members’ employees. But experts have argued that clients should be more proactive in assessing bidders’ strategies.


A 2022 report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on issues affecting men and boys, Tackling Male Suicide, recommended that mandatory mental health clauses should be included in procurement frameworks. It also recommended that suicides should be disclosed as a RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) incident.


Latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) data - from 2021, published in 2022 - shows that construction workers are 10 times more likely to die by suicide than as a result of a workplace accident and four times more likely than the general population. The Causeway research found that 12% of construction workers surveyed had experienced, or were experiencing, suicidal thoughts.


Construction framework company Pagabo was the first one to follow the APPG advice, when it added clauses on mental health policies to its contract at the end of 2022. And when it retendered its professional services construction framework in 2023, it increased its tender period to reduce stress for those working on bids.


Given QBE’s findings, it appears that using tender clauses that mandate and assess mental health strategies could reduce accidents on site and potentially lower the risk of suicides. Even without specific clauses, all employers have a duty of care to protect the mental health of those working for them.


For companies who want to make a start with setting and implementing mental health strategies, there are free resources online, some of which are listed below. For any individuals who may be experiencing mental health issues, resources are also listed.

 

Resources for individuals:

Mates in Mind

·      text “BeAMate” to 85258 to access free and confidential mental health support service from trained volunteers

·      List of other free, confidential support services https://matesinmind.org/need-help


The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity

·      24/7 Construction Industry Helpline, call 0345 605 1956

·      Text HARDHAT to 85258 if you would rather text

 

Samaritans

·      Call 116 122

 

Resources for companies:

Work Right

Mates in Mind

·      Managing and reducing workplace stress handbook https://contact.britsafe.org/MinM-Stress-Aw-Month---0322_Stress-Awareness-Month.html

 

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