Site wellbeing: Rising to the challenge

Posted by Deborah Wilder on 24/09/2019

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Site Wellbeing: Rising to the challenge... workers have the highest suicide rate of any industry, and we're playing our part in tackling the problem.

Construction Site | Wellbeing | Interaction

Site Wellbeing, A Snapshot

2018 data by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) revealed that the construction industry has the highest suicide rate of any profession. Between 2011 and 2015 there were more than 1,400 cases of suicide in the industry, nearly twice the national average.

Even more worrying was that in the finishing trades such as plastering, decorating, tiling and flooring the rate was nearly four times the national average. As Interaction is a company with a strong focus on these finishing trades, the research highlighted the need for us to take urgent action.

Double Danger

The problem goes beyond risk to the individual. Mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety are also bad news for site safety. With the construction industry ranking high on the HSE’s list of dangerous industries, mental health problems can add to the risk – lack of sleep, lack of concentration and lack of concern about injury can all get in the way of taking care and preventing accidents. There is no more dangerous an industry to work in when you’re depressed.

The Big Question - Why?

Cultural expectations play a big role in construction workers not feeling comfortable about expressing their emotions or asking for support. It’s still a heavily male dominated environment where you’re more likely to hear someone say ‘man up’ rather than ‘are you alright – do you want to have a chat?’. The stigma of mental health problems can make people feel fearful of opening up, particularly if they’re worried their job could be at risk. On top of this, 41% of construction workers are self-employed, giving them less job security, less continuity, and making them less likely to feel that there is someone around looking out for them.

Creating spaces for our site staff to relax and chat is something we aim to do on every project. It is important to create environments where people feel comfortable to take a break and be encouraged to talk. We believe that a working site should be just as inviting and open as the beautiful end products we produce!

Site wellbeing | Office Design | Interaction

Let's Rise To The Challenge

At Interaction we have a long history of helping clients create happy, healthy and productive workplaces. Our workplace research projects and evidence-based designs have a strong emphasis on health and wellbeing. People spend most of their waking hours at work and this gives employers the opportunity, and perhaps more importantly the responsibility, to make a positive difference. By creating workplace cultures that enhance wellbeing, employers can encourage their employees to feel more able to talk about their emotions and go on to receive support if necessary.

In our office we apply the same principles and advice that we give to clients. But it’s not just offices - we also have several building sites running at any one time. So I thought I’d take a look behind the scenes. A visit with one of our site managers revealed that at any one time around 60% of the contractors on site were going through some personal trauma or suffering.

Listening, Caring, Supportive, Social

One of our site managers, Kevin Moody, is helping us raise the bar in site health and wellbeing by introducing several important initiatives. The first is to increase awareness of mental health issues. In partnership with the mental health charity Mind he has put up posters on site, in the toilets and common areas, to encourage people to look out for each other and to not suffer in silence if they are feeling low, anxious or stressed.  He is going out of his way to ensure he is an empathic site manager, ready to listen and be supportive. Comfortable and homely break areas have been introduced to provide somewhere welcoming for contractors to take a break, bringing people together and helping them develop social networks rather than sit alone in their vans. Water, fresh fruit, tea and coffee are provided, as well as microwaves for heating up lunch.  Plants, paintings on the walls, table cloths and a spotless site overall create a pleasant, engaging atmosphere. 

Site wellbeing | Office Design | Interaction

Our very own Kevin Moody! Kevin has had an outstanding year and really focused on creating the very best on site environments for his team. It is no wonder Kevin has also achieved a highly esteemed perfect 10AA health and safety rating for his site at Team 11, Bradford on Avon, pictured left. 

Sometimes We Say We're Fine When We're Not

What can others do to help reduce mental health problems and suicide? Start by increasing staff training to look for early warning signs. These could be a wide range of changes in behaviour such as lateness, absenteeism, withdrawal from peers, alcohol or substance misuse, poor performance, self-harm and higher risk taking. Train up mental health champions or first aiders to ensure they are as well equipped as possible to recognise the signs and react accordingly.

Arm yourselves with resources from mental health professionals. The charity Mind has recently launched an online platform “Mental Health at Work” which helps businesses find the advice and tools they need to support the mental health of their staff. The Ask Twice campaign launched in 2018 by Time to Change urges people to 'Ask Twice' if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health. Check out their ‘Elephant in the transit’ campaign in association with Ford. Their message is clear: the simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen. And there’s the Samaritans – a large, well established suicide prevention charity that can support individuals when they’re going through a bad patch.

Raising awareness around site, whether through talking, hanging up posters, or other means is a great way to encourage openness and honesty. Here is an example of some posters we put up at one of our sites in Bradford on Avon highlighting key info about self and others. It received some great feedback!

Site wellbeing | Office Design | Interaction

"I Only Want To Work On That Site"

Success! We were super reassured that our efforts were being noticed when we recently overheard one of our contractors saying “I only want to work on that site, they take care of us there”. Our plan going forward is to ensure all of our sites achieve these high standards of welfare for our site staff and contractors, and hope that our influence spreads far and wide.

Considerate Constructors

As well as taking care of the people on our building sites and receiving top ratings for Health & Safety, we also think about the people and environment around our sites. We have recently won a Considerate Constructors award for one of our Bristol sites. The Scheme looks at the measures a site has put in place to be more considerate towards local neighbourhoods and the public, the workforce, and the environment. Have a read about it here.

If you want to discuss anything in this article, then why not get in touch? We'd love to hear from you!