March 25, 2021
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Mental health in the construction industry
The construction industry is a hugely rewarding and varied place to work, and many business owners wouldn’t work anywhere else. However, with ever tighter deadlines, increasing demands from clients and economic uncertainty, it’s also one where the pressures can sometimes get too much.

From owners and managers to employees and subcontractors, workers in the industry can be more likely than average to experience work-related stress and other mental health issues. This is not helped by the fact that for many, it’s often difficult to come forward, mention that something’s bothering them or simply ask a work colleague for a chat.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide looking at the current state of mental health in the construction industry, signs to look out for among your workforce and how your business could play its part in beating this debilitating problem.

Managing your own construction business, or being a manager on site, is the fulfilment of a long-term ambition for many. However, as we will see, there are some big challenges that come with this responsibility. So, why not let the dedicated team at Insurance Choice help you with at least one of them.

A big part of what we do is to make choosing the right type of insurance for a construction business as straightforward as possible. Not only will it protect you, your business, and your employees, but it’ll also give you the headspace to focus on some of those other important issues.

Mental health issues in the construction industry – the silent crisis

Despite the huge amount of work that the construction industry puts into the physical health and safety of its workers, there’s still a big area where there’s a lot more work to be done – that of mental health.

The tragic fact is that despite doing so much for society, construction workers are statistically one of the worst off in terms of suffering from mental health issues.

With one of the highest suicide rates in the UK, the construction industry demonstrates perfectly the different ways that society views physical and mental health.
Here are some facts and figures that illustrate the scale of this so-called silent crisis:
  A construction worker working on the roof of a building alone with two co-workers talking in the distance

What causes poor mental health within the construction industry?

According to data from the Health & Safety Executive, ill health in the construction industry due to mental issues costs Britain hundreds of millions of pounds every year in terms of healthcare, lost productivity and many other costs.

So, not only is this mental health crisis having a devastating impact on employees, their families, and friends but also on the UK economy as a whole. In turn, the overall health of the economy has huge impacts on all our lives from funding for the NHS and schools to commercial insurance premiums.

There are many causes for mental health issues in the construction industry including:
  • Job instability – The nature of construction jobs means that often workers are on short-term projects and are unsure of when their next job will come. Worrying about when their next pay cheque will arrive is a big stress on workers and their families.
  • Long hours – When a deadline needs to be met the hours can get very long indeed, with a big knock-on effect to mental health.
  • Separation from home – The support networks offered by family and friends near to home aren’t always there when you’re working away from home for weeks at a time on a construction site.
  • Unfair payment practices – Sometimes there can be difficulties with a client once a job is completed. All too often disagreements can lead to clients withholding or delaying payment. This is a huge source of stress for construction workers left without full pay after finishing a job. Indeed, a recent report from the Building Engineering Services Association and the Electrical Contractors Association found that nine out of 10 construction bosses have suffered from mental health problems as a result of late payments.
This clearly has a huge affect not only on the physical and mental health and safety of your workforce but also your business itself. Protecting your business from all forms of damage is a key priority – that’s why it is always important to have the best commercial insurance in place.

How to spot signs of mental health concern

Clearly the earlier that signs of mental health concerns are spotted the better. It’s a particular challenge in the construction industry where 21% of respondents in a recent survey were worried that people would treat them differently, while 32% thought that others might think they can’t do their job properly. While a fifth said it was simply not the ‘done thing’ in construction. 

Because so many people are unwilling to speak about such issues, it’s vital that employers and workmates are aware of the signs to look out for. The mental health charity Mind has information on the huge array of mental health problems any of us could suffer from and is a great place to look for guidance.

Perhaps obviously the first signs that you might spot when it comes to mental health problems are those you can physically see. Complaining about headaches and migraines, having digestive issues or signs of fatigue can all be indicators of an underlying mental issue.

An increasingly common issue can be from anxiety or panic disorders. When we feel anxious, our bodies often release so-called ‘fight or flight’ hormones like adrenaline or cortisol. Building anxiety can often manifest itself in panic attacks. Someone having a panic attack may well show physical signs such as shaking, excessive sweating and struggling to breathe.

Not all mental health problems will produce physical symptoms, though. Indeed many sufferers may have even developed ways to mask the symptoms from those around them. So, it’s important to also look for behavioural changes that might point to a mental health issue. Such changes could include:
  • Poor concentration and being easily distracted.
  • Being less interested in social or day-to-day activities.
  • Having a low mood or crying.
  • Tiredness and lack of energy.
  • Talking less and avoiding social activities or interaction.
  • Talking very quickly or jumping between different topics.
  • Finding it difficult to control emotions.
  • Drinking more, excessive gambling or taking drugs.
  • Irritability and short temper.
Noticing any of these signs doesn’t mean you should make assumptions about what mental health problems someone might have. Instead, use them as a way of checking in and starting a conversation about how they’re coping.
A construction worker using a large spirit level tool on the floor

What can your business do to help?

The issues of mental health in the construction industry are clearly a huge concern. But more and more construction businesses are realising their staff’s mental health is a priority and are prepared to do something about it.

Even before the effects of COVID-19 were felt, many organisations were already offering assistance and putting together information and training for businesses. Now it’s become clear that the pandemic has also affected people’s mental health, even more businesses are wanting to put employee mental health and wellbeing at the very heart of what they do.

An excellent place to start your journey is to look at the work of the Building Mental Health (BMH) initiative. They are a group of volunteers from across the construction industry which has assembled a whole toolkit of resources to show you where to start and how to take things further.

They recommend five steps to building a supportive culture around mental health in construction.
  1. Show your business’s commitment by signing the Building Mental Health Charter.
  2. Make sure staff know about any assistance programmes on offer and how to contact the Construction Industry Helpline. This is available via phone on 0345 605 1956 or via the helpline app.
  3. Deliver a ‘tool box talk’ (see resources below) to raise awareness, alert people to the signs that someone might need help, and to encourage conversations about mental health.
  4. Encourage training for managers or supervisors on what to do if somebody raises a concern over mental health.
  5. Provide access to accredited mental health first aid training.

If you want further guidance on how to support these five steps why not take a look at the resources below? They’ll be sure to give you some great ideas on how to make small changes straight away that could make a big difference to someone’s life.

​​Construction Industry Helpline packs - Whether they work on site or in offices, workers need to know that they’re not alone. There’s a 24/7 confidential support service dedicated to them and their families. Order this pack of posters, cards, and hard hat stickers to help spread the word.

Tool Box Talk - The free adaptable Tool Box Talk is a great way to start the conversation about mental health in the workplace. There’s a complete presentation available along with videos and other useful materials.

Suicide prevention training from the Zero Suicide Alliance - There could be someone in your company thinking about suicide right now. This is a frightening thought for anyone, it can be difficult to know what to do or say. This free online training shows how you could bring up the subject and offer support. It’s emotional content, but important.

Mental health first aid training - Just as it’s important to have a first aider to deal with physical injuries on site, there’s an increasing move to have someone to help with mental health issues. BMH has a list of training organisations who specialise in construction here.

Get things started with this series of short videos on the BMH website.

Considerate Constructors Scheme - The CCS's Spotlight on Mental Health has a wealth of information worth looking through. From facts and figures and legal information to an excellent library of examples of best practice in supporting mental health in construction. They also have an invaluable series of case studies looking at how construction businesses have tackled mental health awareness.

Mental Health in Construction course - The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has launched a massive open online course called ‘Mental Health in Construction’. Sign up to the course and learn to understand signs and symptoms of poor mental health and how to manage your own and others mental wellbeing.

Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) grants for short training courses - If your business is registered with CITB it could claim grants to pay for short training courses, such as a mental health training course.

Mates in Mind – a UK-wide charity to raise awareness and address the stigma of poor mental health across workplaces.

Protect your business from stresses and strains with commercial insurance

However small or large your construction business is, you need commercial insurance to protect all concerned. And if you’re looking to find the ideal cover that’s tailored to your business you can rely on the team of insurance specialists at Insurance Choice.

Drawing on our panel of carefully selected insurers who specialise in providing quality cover to your industry, you’ll be sure to find the right insurance at the right price.

If you choose Insurance Choice, you’ll benefit from:
  • UK-based call centres
  • Fully trained customer service team
  • A wide range of insurance products
  • Bespoke insurance quotes
  • Access to the best quotes on the market
Here at Insurance Choice, we’ve been arranging commercial insurance cover for over 20 years.

Get a quick quote for commercial insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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