Mental wellbeing is a critical safety issue on construction sites

A survey carried out by Accuracy Research on behalf of the Construction Industry Federation has shown that mental wellbeing has become a significant safety concern for construction companies in Ireland.

CIF Director of Safety, Dermot Carey said: “The construction industry is well recognised as an industry that takes safety very seriously. During industry shutdown, our membership designed a world class standard operating procedure and induction programme that enabled over 180,000 people return to work safely. Even before the pressure of Covid-19, the industry was working hard to help positively affect their employees’ mental wellbeing. For us, mental health has huge implications for onsite safety and we are working with members to help them help employees in this area.

“Our survey shows the challenges facing over 47,000 SME and micro-enterprises in the industry in terms of managing wellbeing. If we can support these companies to manage mental wellbeing, we could have a major positive impact on society. To this end, the CIF has produced a guidance note for the industry on supporting mental health amongst its workforce.”

Survey findings

  • 98% acknowledge that staff mental wellbeing has important safety implications
  • 94% believe it is critically important the industry improves management of employees’ mental wellbeing
  • 68% of companies believe the construction sector has a serious issue with staff under reporting issues with their mental wellbeing in the workplace
  • 79% of companies reporting they manage mental health issues on an ad-hoc basis with only 13% of micro-enterprises have a formal policy
  • 29% reported that unrealistic deadlines were a key stressor in the industry
  • 50% reported that mental health issues affect absenteeism in the industry

CIF is hoping that construction SMEs will bring the topic of mental wellbeing into their corporate strategy. It is encouraging companies to make wellbeing part of the company safety culture through regular toolbox talks on site for example. Companies should also set up wellbeing committees within the organisation focused on engaging with staff and running events around mental wellbeing (ie workshops, inviting speakers to talk about important issues: anxiety, depression, suicide, interactive events about wellbeing, eating and lifestyle). As ever, assigned a senior individual to monitor, measure and manage employee mental wellbeing, will help ensure wellbeing becomes embedded in company culture. As a first step, we are encouraging all companies to sign up to an EAP service; the CIF is partnering with Laya Healthcare and Spectrum.Life to provide such a service to its members.

Sinéad Proos, Head of Health and Wellbeing at Laya Healthcare said: “The research from CIF is extremely insightful in terms of how we can best help to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the construction sector. While it’s very encouraging to see that most leaders in this sector acknowledge the importance of mental health and wellbeing as a health and safety consideration, it is concerning that over half of companies believe that staff under report mental health issues.

“Our partnership with CIF, ‘Build Health’ is something that can support both employers and employees in the sector. The mental health and wellbeing support programme offers resources to leaders in the sector and the 24/7 Mental Health Support Programme offers invaluable and confidential help and advice to those who need it.”

Dr.Emelina Ellis, Clinical Excellence lead at Spectrum.Life said: “We know from the research that ‘Mental wellbeing, psychosocial risks and work-related stress are among the most challenging occupational safety and health concerns’ for construction workers. Whilst we know that stress and other mental health related issues impact the staff at the construction industry we also know that these difficulties are under reported and therefore staff may not be accessing the much needed support at the times when they need it most. We are delighted to be there 24/7 to support staff in the construction industry when and where they need it by offering a completely free and confidential service which removes any potential barriers to staff seeking help and to work towards overcoming any stigma which may be preventing people from accessing the supports they need.”

Andy O’Gorman Chairman of the Construction Workers’ Sick Pay Trust said: “The Trust is very pleased to support the launch of this survey. He said that the Construction Workers’ Sick Pay Trust is committed to the promotion of better health, including mental health and wellbeing for all workers in the construction sector. He urged all parties to support an increased focus on the mental health and wellbeing of workers as well as a continued focus on the physical health and safety of workers.”

The CIF is undertaking a year-long initiative to support mental wellbeing amongst its 1,400 members and the wider industry. This October (w/c 19th October), mental wellbeing will be a central theme in the CIF’s annual construction safety week. This campaign promotes safety across all sectors of the industry with a particular focus on SMEs, micro-enterprises and unqualified people engaging in construction activity. The vast majority of accidents and fatalities now occur amongst sole-traders, microenterprises and individuals carrying out repairs and one-off construction.

This year, the CIF has engaged Rory O’Connor from Rory’s Stories, as its safety ambassador to promote safety in construction. Rory will carry out dozens of safety and wellbeing toolbox talks around the country across August, September and October.