Are pink walls the answer to construction workers’ stress?
With a fatal injury rate of four times the all-industry average, construction is undoubtedly one of the more dangerous occupations. But there’s another hidden issue, one that is not so obvious in its risks as working at heights or operating potentially lethal machinery might be.
Shockingly, according to the Office of National Statistics in 2019, the suicide rate for male labourers was three times higher than the average male suicide rate for the UK. And a quarter of builders report having such dark thoughts, according to the British Safety Council.
There does seem to be a crisis in the wellbeing of construction workers. The H&SE report that a fifth of lost construction days are due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression. That’s 400,000 days each year missed due to mental health issues.
Why is mental health compromised by the job?
There’s a number of factors that come into play. Long hours and days working away from home can mean workers feel remote from their families. The temporary and precarious – in all senses of the word – nature of the work can cause anxieties about personal safety and financial security.
And there’s still a very macho culture, where seeking help or support for mental health problems might be seen as a weakness. Despite changes for the better in many areas, we still live in a time when boys are taught from primary school age that it’s ‘girly’ to cry. This harmful perception makes it so much harder for men to ask for help or talk openly about how they are feeling, particularly in traditionally male environments.
Historically, the focus for wellbeing in the industry has been on the more evident physical hazards, with little thought given to mental health. But mental wellbeing has broad implications for physical safety too. Feeling pressured or being under emotional stress are proven to be factors that contribute to poor decision making.
Add to the mix the attitude to risk-taking that is often present in a male-dominated setting and the peer pressure of co-workers, and you start to see how unhealthy mental attitudes can result in a higher risk of serious physical harm too. Fortunately, the stigma around poor mental health is receding, and attitudes are starting to change. And there are some things employers can do to help.
Develop a framework for support and communication
Workers need to feel that both their physical AND mental health are a top priority for their employer. Ensuring health and safety policies are communicated well and strictly followed, introducing wellbeing initiatives, and providing a support service for workers with concerns are all initiatives that can be introduced.
Employers must be willing to prove real, practical support, with programmes in place within the workplace, and support and encouragement to make use of them. 64% of construction workers are reported to actively want this type of support. Knowing there is somewhere to turn that offers support will be a huge reassurance for many.
Invest in education
Both employers and employees need educating to recognise the signs of depression and other problems within themselves and their co-workers. Developing training services that make use of available mental health support resources could literally save lives. Stress management training is also beneficial. Wellbeing needs to be measured and reviewed regularly to ensure the needs of the workforce are being met.
Create a central community space
One of the things that really impacts on people’s mindset is their immediate environment. With isolation being highlighted as a contributory factor in the high incidence of suicide, a central hub where workers can relax, socialise and take breaks can really help. Communal tables, soft lighting, plants, and even making games available all reduce stress hormones. Ensure it has good natural light, which helps to prevent tiredness and eyestrain, and consider the colour it is painted. Green and blue are proven to be restful. But when Overbury oversaw the construction of London’s 27-story Shell Building, they reinvented their canteen as a ‘calming zone’ and decorated the walls in Baker-Miller pink; a shade claimed to have a soothing impact.
There is plenty that construction employers can do to help their workforces. Creating a better environment to support wellbeing isn’t that hard but does need thinking through and measuring. Working with a third party, such as Remus Rewards, to help provide a range of services certainly makes the job easier and faster to implement. If you’d like to discuss how we can help, do get in touch.