Mental health is an important issue in UK construction. Contractors, developers, and civil engineers are committing themselves to improving workers' wellbeing, but the robustness of fledgling initiatives could be greatly tested by COVID-19.
The pandemic has caused widespread anxiety related to site shutdowns. In a recent industry coronavirus survey, for example, many subcontractors and main contractors expressed worries about the risks of mixing with others while commuting to work and working onsite. Yet the closure of building sites could mean pay cuts, furlough-related inactivity, social isolation, and joblessness fears.
During the lockdown, whether their sites remain open or closed, firms must work harder to support their workers' mental and emotional resilience.
When conducting a construction risk assessment and embedding a strategy, managers need to pay attention to staff make-up, company culture, and attitudes towards mental health. Sickness absences must be managed, and staff with mental health difficulties must be provided with appropriate occupational health and HR support.
Preventative measures include, but are not limited to:
Risk assessment: Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by assessing the risks and acting on the findings. Visit the HSE website for guidelines on formulating a mental health risk assessment. Advice can also be sought from specialist companies that help construction employers optimise their employees' mental health.
Staff survey: Optimise mental health policies by surveying employees regarding their needs. Maximise survey participation by considering the following:
The construction site risk assessment and staff survey should pinpoint areas of concern. Practical next steps include:
Mental health strategies must be flexible to respond to the workforce’s needs. Optimise your policies and processes by auditing them regularly:
The occupations associated with construction work present specific challenges when structuring and implementing a mental health wellbeing policy. For example, working from height is a high-risk activity — almost one in five construction industry deaths involve roof work. Employers must consider how working from height amplifies the risk for workers with mental health difficulties.
Construction risk managers also need to consider how the following issues might affect uptake of available help:
While the COVID-19 pandemic is temporary, mental health — good and bad — is always with us. There is not a more appropriate time for construction companies to work with their employees to improve their long term wellbeing.