02 August 2017

Stress and the construction industry

It’s time to break down the macho barriers surrounding mental illness amongst construction workers

With construction traditionally a macho industry with many working long and exhausting hours on tight deadlines while coping with the financial pressure that can come with insecure employment, it’s no surprise it is taking its toll on the mental health of those working in the sector.

According to figures released in March by the Office of National Statistics the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those in construction, is 3.7 times higher than the male national average. The figures, for workers aged 20 to 64, showed 1,419 suicides in construction and building trades from 2011 to 2015.[1]

Other research from the Labour Force Survey 2016 showed that work-related stress, anxiety and depression cost the industry 400,000 work-days a year and accounted for around 20 per cent of all cases of ill health in construction over the last five years. Right now, one in six workers in the UK is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress.[2]

“With soaring numbers suffering from stress in the working environment work-related stress is at an epidemic,“ commented Brett Hill, Managing Director for The Health Insurance Group. “Many forward-thinking employers are tackling the issue responsibly, adopting comprehensive or full-service wellbeing solutions that include access to counsellors and mental health advice so that those dealing with it don’t feel isolated and know there is someone there to support them. 

“But while some employers have been praised for their investments in resilience training and wellness at work initiatives, stress remains a taboo, carrying a heavy stigma. In a sector like construction, where there is a high number of male workers, we cannot ignore the specific risks associated for men and mental health.”

With the workforce in the construction sector being predominantly male there are a wide range of factors that can lead to stress – for example heavy workloads, long working hours, travel, family separation, fear of redundancy and job insecurity. Any combination of these factors, and others, can potentially lead to a deterioration in mental health. Research has shown that common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and their adverse consequences disproportionately affect those that are poorer and more disadvantaged.

Continued Hill, “The support systems are in place, such as Mates in Mind, a partnership set up to help the industry, but attitudes and culture can still seem less than compassionate so it is vital that employers ensure that they have an effective strategy in place, particularly for mental health and stress. 

“A mental health condition can be classed as a disability if it has a considerable and lasting effect on a person’s capabilities in terms of carrying out day to day activities. If an employer understands their responsibilities then the right support can be provided with the appropriate sensitivity, avoiding potential liabilities if a business got things wrong. Firms should be showing both bravery and openness in addressing the stigmas of stress and mental health in the industry.”

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/suicidebyoccupation/england2011to2015>[2] https://www.matesinmind.org/about.html