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Construction - Health or Safety?

04 February 2022

This article explores why this phrase, in practice, is completely biased towards safety.

What is the construction industry doing to look after the health of its workforce? Initiatives are bound to prevent accidents and injuries, but in what health does the industry deliver its workers if they manage to reach retirement?

If they reach retirement.

Mental health problems continue to rise in the industry:

  • 30 workers out of 100,000 will die by suicide.
  • Construction workers are 3.4 times more likely to die by suicide compared to other occupations.

The reasons?

  • Unique characteristics of the industry – a high proportion of male workers who are less likely to discuss their problems;
  • the 'banter' on site leading to individuals feeling like they are more likely to face ridicule if they raise their mental health concerns;
  • tight deadlines;
  • the pressure to minimise cost;
  • working away from home;
  • lack of job security.

Covid will be seen to have further accelerated the problem.

Why in the UK is construction seen as a low level job, in comparison with other countries/cultures where the same roles would be held in higher esteem?

Laudable steps are now finally starting.

  • Main contractors are employing site based mental health first aiders.
  • The Lighthouse Club charity provides mental health helplines, and now a text service HARDHAT, specifically for construction workers.

However, further questions must be asked. How likely is a worker going to be seen going into a site mental health office? How is the awareness of the Lighthouse initiatives being spread?

The CDM regulations sought to put the safety responsibility back with the instigator of the risk – the client. What are clients doing about the health of the construction supply chains assembled to deliver their construction projects?

Clients and contractors can do more.

I could list various possible initiatives. However a start would be the industry reporting on health with the same importance as safety.

Further Reading