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When managing your organisation’s health and safety, don’t forget about the issue that affects one in four people in the UK at some time in their life. Jenny Gibson reports.

Stress and mental health issues can have enormous negative impact on employee wellbeing. They are a huge drain on productivity and thought to be a strong contributor to absenteeism, yet they can still pass unnoticed and unmanaged by many organisations.

There are many sources of stress in the workplace: job-related anxiety, workplace conflict or bullying, high workloads, heavy pressure and more. Stress and anxiety often go undiagnosed or unreported, particularly in the “macho” environment of construction sites. And as a result, some construction companies claim they have never had an employee suffering from mental health problems, but national statistics tell a different story.

A very tangible impact

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that 91 million working days are lost each year because of mental health conditions, costing employers nearly £26 billion. In addition, stress and anxiety can lead to lower morale in the workforce, physical illnesses in individuals, accidents and injuries, and, in extreme cases, self-harm or suicide.

All employers have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the welfare (physical and mental) of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury.

Focusing on mental health in construction

In January, the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) held its second summit. Following the success of its inaugural 2016 event, which discussed the importance of raising awareness of health issues in the construction industry – focusing initially on respiratory disease – this year’s summit reflected on progress to date as well as bringing a focus to the growing issue of mental health within the industry. The 300 delegates were presented with a variety of tools and techniques to apply with their teams.

This included the launch of the Mates in Mind programme (see www.matesinmind.org), set up with the support of the British Safety Council. Mates in Mind aims to raise awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction sector by bringing the industry together to openly talk and address the stigma associated with mental health through employer support and sharing of information.

The win-win of Health & Safety

Dealing with any health and safety issue is not just about jumping through legislative hoops. Good health and safety management is about creating win-win situations between workers and employers. When stress is managed at work, it will no longer be a cause for absenteeism, and employees will be happier and more productive.

Looking after your people

The HSE publishes Management Standards for work-related stress (see www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards). Simply monitoring the six identified sources of stress in your organisation is a powerful first step to promoting organisational and individual health and wellbeing. But monitoring the risk factors should be followed up with stress management plans.

There are plenty of ideas that can be implemented to reduce stress and to show concern for your employees’ mental wellness. Simply saying “Thank you” and asking “How are you?”, and listening sincerely to the answer, can go a long way. Making sure that your employees’ work is meaningful and providing adequate down-time for your employees to rest and socialise are also very important.

Speaking at the HCLG summit, Clive Johnson, one of the founding members and chair of the HCLG and Group Head of Health, Safety and Security at Land Securities, said: “With suicide causing ten times more deaths than accidents on sites, it is imperative that the industry is truly aware of the deeply impactful consequences of unaddressed mental health issues.”

“In raising this issue today with over 300 industry leaders, we have set the foundations to addressing mental health openly, confidently and honestly within the construction industry; not just by ‘starting the conversation’ but by providing delegates with the skills and knowledge to go back into their workplace and address this issue head on.”

Scaffolding Association chief executive Robert Candy said: “It’s impossible to remove all types of workplace stress, and this is especially true of the construction industry. And, of course, some employee stress will come from sources that are outside your control.

“Having said all that, it’s incredibly important to control and minimise the risks of harm that stress and mental health issues present, wherever it’s possible to do so.”

 

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