HSE International ISSUE 109 - Page 32

HEALTH & WELLBEING: MATES IN MIND MATES IN MIND Men under the age of 50 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause, including cancer, road accidents and heart disease. For men working in construction, this risk is 3.7 times higher than the national male average. I n March this year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data based on deaths registered in England between 2011 and 2015. According to the research, males working in the lowest-skilled occupations have a 44% higher risk of suicide than the male national average, while the risk among males in skilled trades is 35% higher. However, the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, is 3.7 times higher than the male national average. The UK construction sector contributes £90 billion to the UK economy (6.7% of the total) and is a major employer; accounting for around 7% of the UK workforce (2.9 million workers). ONS figures are alarming and the problem is unquestionably too big for us to ignore. Historically, the construction industry has been a challenging workplace, with relatively high levels of death and injury. Over the course of the last two decades, significant progress has been made to reduce this toll. Much of the effort over these years has focused on improving physical safety. Meanwhile, mental health and wellbeing has mostly been a secondary consideration. Despite advances in awareness, mental health conditions and suicide prevention are still taboo topics of conversation in construction. There are many suicide high-risk factors prevalent in this male dominated industry. “Macho” culture creates barriers to seeking help and acknowledging emotional problems. Physically challenging work makes employees prone to 32 HSE INTERNATIONAL injuries and fatigue, which can cause chronic pain and lead to physical strain, distress, and pain medication addiction. There is also potential for post-traumatic stress from psychological injury caused by witnessing traumatic life- threatening events. In addition, the cyclical nature of work, regular lay-off periods, seasonal furloughs, and uncertainty of rehiring add to the list of risk factors. Some employees frequently travel from project to project across the UK, leading to separation from their families and significant others. Sleep disruption from working long hours for weeks at a tim e, especially during critical project phases, is another important risk factor. And, since alcohol and substance abuse in construction is relatively high compared to other occupational industries, these should also be noted indicators. Earlier this year, research organisation RAND surveyed 5,000 members of the construction workforce. Christian Van Stolk, RAND Europe, said: “It is well documented that the construction industry has many characteristics that could affect the mental health of its workforce. This year, through RAND Europe’s work with Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace and working with Mates in Mind, we have found that there is high variance in the survey results between construction organisations. This is especially noticeable in areas such as financial concerns, work-related stress and unrealistic time pressures where in some organisations there were much higher risks reported compared to the average. This suggests that in designing