The construction sector is proving to be one of the worst cases.
Several reasons have been suggested for particularly poor health, safety and well being figures in the construction industry, including the large numbers of transitory workers. You can imagine eyes glazing over at yet another health and safety induction. Meanwhile, there is a suspicion that some of the smaller companies are less committed to health and safety principles. Further improvements, it is suggested, must come from really understanding how people feel about the work and jobs — a potentially tough nut to crack.
In construction, this means moving away from its traditional macho culture. Evidence has shown that the increasing presence of women in the North Sea oil and gas industry over the past two decades quickly marginalised cavalier attitudes to safety. Would more women in the sector change attitudes to health?
In the highly fragmented construction sector, where driving costs down is a constant priority, such changes could be more difficult. There are also less obvious factors. The HSE figures show that nearly 20% of reported work-related illnesses result from stress due to long hours, depression often caused or intensified by long periods of separation from family members, plus general feelings of anxiety linked to job security fears. It is thought that suicide figures in the sector could be as much as 10 times higher than average sector work fatality figures.
As mental ill health becomes a growing problem throughout the working world, the union Unite encourages its members to become mental first aiders and ensure that all workers have someone they can talk to about personal issues. Companies need to take the same route in providing a sympathetic listening ear and signposting the way to professional support. Similarly, they should look at paving the way for a supported return to work where time off has been necessary, such as with flexible or part-time working.
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