Falls from height has been described as the UK’s “biggest workplace killer”.
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) between 2012 to 2017 they accounted for 28% of all worker deaths in the UK – averaging around 40 deaths per year.
But to put this into context, during the same period there were more than 1,400 as a result of suicide. So much for “biggest workplace killer”.
In fact, the Office for National Statistics has found that low-skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than falls from height.
Why we are at risk
Understanding why construction workers are more likely to take their own lives than those in other professions is not easy.
The fact that it is male-dominated increases the risk immediately, with 75% of people who take their own lives in the UK being men.
But much of it also stems from the stigma associated with mental health conditions.
This stigma is embedded in our society and makes it very difficult for someone suffering to speak to close friends – let alone work colleagues.
As a result of not being able to talk, a person might not confront their problem. They may delay getting help and treatment; they may feel even more isolated, so stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.
On top of this, roofing and construction can involve short-term contracts, working away from home, lack of job security, little structure, and roles that are particularly demanding – exacerbating any existing stress.
Why we should care
People that feel good about themselves often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to the workplace.
A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study highlighted the impact that mental ill health can have on organisations. The study found that:
- 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues.
- 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks.
- 80% find it difficult to concentrate.
- 62% take longer to do tasks.
- 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.
The study also found that, for the first time, stress is the major cause of long-term absence in manual and non-manual workers.
In fact, a staggering 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
Meanwhile, the Government’s Department of Health advises that one in four of us will experience mental ill health at some point in our lives.
It is therefore important that employers and their staff take steps to promote positive mental health and support those experiencing mental ill health.
Making steps toward change
It’s no secret that most of the time our industry is resistant to change. But sticking to habits can sometimes be very dangerous. For far too long, a tendency to keep problems to ourselves has pushed mental health issues under the radar.
And the fear is that this inertia will continue as long as there is no one to decide to lead towards this change.
For deep changes to work, we all need to get on board. This means establishing new health and safety training to address mental health as well as physical first aid. This means starting a dialogue with staff. This means stamping out discrimination. This means transforming attitudes top to bottom.
Next month (April) is Stress Awareness Month. It’s a great opportunity to involve your team in an activity or conversation about mental health to break the ice. As employers, we have to lead the way. And encouraging managers to interact with their staff and be as available and approachable as possible seems like a good place to start.