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The Silent Epidemic In Construction

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Walk on to a construction site and what do you see? Signs everywhere stressing the importance of physical health and safety, reminding you to wear protective equipment and how to handle machinery.

But what about mental health and wellbeing?

Why is no importance placed on that?

Is it because it is a male dominated industry and talking about feelings doesn’t seem the ‘tough’ thing to do? So it is ignored until burnout occurs.

It is pretty much a mirror of society itself where physical health is something we tend to think of in a positive way whilst mental health carries so much stigma. This makes it almost impossible for construction workers to feel safe talking about their feelings - a silent epidemic.

Yet research suggests that 64% of construction workers want better wellbeing support from their employers.

The Facts

Whilst there is much more awareness around health and wellbeing in the workplace as a whole, some of the statistics in construction are frightening! Despite the emphasis on physical safety, suicide kills more construction workers than falls.

According to the Chartered Institute Of Building:

  • Two people working in construction in the UK die by suicide every day. Over 700 per year.

  • 48% have taken time off work owing to unmanageable stress.

  • 91% have felt overwhelmed and 26% have expressed suicidal thoughts.

A fifth of work-related illnesses are down to stress, anxiety and depression which equals 70 million days off sick per year. This costs an estimated £70-100 billion, according to the National Building Specification.

And construction workers are more likely to lie about the reason they are off work, some research suggests that 95% will not tell their employer if it is stress related.

This tells us very clearly that people need to just start by talking more.

Knowing What To Look For

Often, by the time we have identified an issue, it is too late. Being aware of some of the early signs of burnout is therefore crucial.

These could include:

  • 1.Feelings of depletion and exhaustion

  • 2.Increased mental distance from the job

  • 3.Reduced efficacy, lateness and absenteeism

But it is important to note that burnout and mental illness are very personal things and some are able to hide them well. We therefore need to know our people inside out.

What Employers Can Do

Many in the industry say it is only a matter of time before we see enforcement action taken by the HSE in the area of mental health so leaders now have the greatest opportunity to shift the culture within construction. To prevent poor mental health and burnout being the norm

This must start at the top. Longer holidays, gym passes and staff perks are just tools in the toolbox, they are sticking plasters.

Burnout is a “we” problem to solve, it can not be tackled with self-care alone. Organisations need to up skill their leaders to feel confident in implementing prevention strategies. More Than Nutrition can help you create agents of change through a bespoke leadership training programme that can then be cascaded down.

Wellbeing in the construction industry is not an easy thing to tackle, it needs to be approached carefully and sensitively.

But when it is, employers will see an increase in worker retention, decrease in stress-related absence and more workers feeling that their mental health is being supported.

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