Updated: Aug 25
The mental health crisis in the UK construction industry is sometimes called ‘the silent epidemic’. Iconic Project Manager Janet looks at the statistics and explores ways in which we can support our colleagues in the industry to make it a better space in which to work.
***WARNING: CONTAINS MENTIONS OF SUICIDE***
Is construction stressful?
Every day In the UK alone, two construction workers commit suicide.
This statistic is extremely worrying, especially when you combine it with the fact that 59% of workers who needed time off due to their mental ill-health did not inform their employer that that was the reason for the time off.
The construction industry is known for having strict Health & Safety laws in place. You cannot start work on the simplest tasks without first carrying out a risk assessment. This is done to protect the worker and their colleagues, and to be sure that they are aware of all potential risks. There must be method statements that lay out safe working practices to mitigate potential risks where possible.
When we think about health and safety, we think about working from height, working in confined spaces and working with hazardous materials, for example. Rarely do we think about the invisible killer, and I’m not talking about carbon monoxide, although mental ill-health is also colourless, odorless, tasteless and poisonous.
The reality is that 10 times more people in construction die every year from taking their own lives than from occupational and industrial safety incidents. Workers in the construction industry are three times more likely to commit suicide than in any other sector.
Many of the causes of poor mental health in the construction industry stem from the isolated nature of much of the work. As explained in The Guardian, this social isolation can develop into problems with drink, drugs and gambling.
Personal Mental Health Risk Assessments
When we carry out risk assessments, we usually tend only to focus on the physical side of the work.
How to carry out the work safely without causing harm or injury to yourself or others
I believe that we should be carrying out personal risk assessments on ourselves (or with a supportive employer). For example, some of the things we could be asking ourselves are:
Am I capable of completing the task without causing harm (stress overload) to myself?
Is there a safer way of completing this task?
Do I need support from others?
The answer could be that you are not capable right now, for whatever reason: work overload, time management, it could even be that you’re overwhelmed with things going on in your personal life. We are human, it happens, and beating ourselves up about it only makes things worse.
You may need some support to complete the tasks at hand effectively and safely.
Responsible employers would rather have their employees ask for help when they need it, than to have them needing time off work to recover from a mental crisis due to an unmanageable workload.
Almost half (48%) of construction workers have taken time off work because of poor mental health brought on by unmanageable stress. This has obvious commercial implications: lost work days cost money.
More importantly, the human cost of stress is too high. None of us wants our friends, family or colleagues to suffer.
Be aware, be open, be understanding
We all know and understand that a certain level of stress comes with the territory, whether it’s from physical on-site work or office-based management work.
Whatever the situation, it’s important to reach out and ask for help. You might be pleasantly surprised at the level of support you’re offered.
There are things we can all do to improve the industry’s mental health problems. We can start by being aware of our colleagues stress levels, and being open to listening to their concerns and worries. We should always be understanding of their worries.
Mental Health Awareness at Iconic
Iconic Project Management understands that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, both of Iconic’s directors have completed Mental Health First Aid courses, so they know what to look out for and are always available to offer support.
Iconic Project Management is also a proud sponsor of The Lighthouse Club, the Construction Industry Charity, which is set up to support all people who work within the construction industry. They offer support and training courses in many areas (most of which are free).
Here’s a few of the courses available:
Mental health first aid
Masterclass – Anxiety
Masterclass – Selfcare
Taking control – Drugs and alcohol
Masterclass – Bang on Budget
Masterclass – Resilience
There is nothing wrong with asking for help
If you have been affected in any way by this article, and realise that you could benefit from some support, then please contact The Lighthouse Charity for some Help Inside the Hard Hat:
If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out to any of the mental health charities. Everybody needs help sometimes and that’s perfectly fine.
Janet is a construction management professional from South Wales and has been working in the construction industry for 15 years both in the UK and internationally.
Janet gained her Master’s degree in Project Management (Construction & Infrastructure) in 2014 and has worked with contractors, as well as on the client side of projects.