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Every day, two construction workers commit suicide…

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“Tough construction workers” or "Tough, construction workers”?

The image of the average workman on a building site is of a tough lad who can look after himself; someone who likes a laugh and extracting the you-know-what from his mates in a spirit of give and take. And if you can’t take it then the attitude tends to be “tough, that’s your problem.”

The British stiff upper lip has, in some circumstances, a lot to commend it, but it many others is a barrier to the millions in all walks of life who suffer from mental illness. The idea that someone “can’t take it” or is otherwise different from his mates (mentally or, heaven forfend, in terms of his/her sexual orientation) is not something with which the building industry has traditionally been very comfortable. Fortunately, as society as a whole becomes more relaxed and less judgemental, things are changing, but only a bit and certainly not enough.

Following their own research earlier in 2018 and then the publication of the government report, “Thriving at Work,” last October, Construction News has, over the last few months, published a series of excellent articles on the subject of health, mental or otherwise, in the industry and some of the statistics are truly shocking.  It’s not just those two construction workers a day taking their own lives, it’s also the fact that c. 25% have considered doing so – a figure which rises to nearly 33% of graduates and other junior staff members.  Low skilled construction workers have a three times greater risk of suicide than the UK average.  Even at the “top end,” there are stories of CEOs burning out.  

Unsurprisingly, nearly two-thirds of construction workers want their employers to offer better mental and physical support and consequently it was great to see Project Scotland reporting in May on an initiative by Glasgow firm City Building where their staff contributed to Mental Health Awareness Week with a “fun and stress-busting” day of activities.

In addition, Construction Week is still collecting responses for its Mind Matters survey of mental health in the industry.  You can take part in this at this link and I’d encourage you find time to participate. I’ve done so and have also encouraged all the staff at Peace to do likewise. While we’re not a front-line construction firm, it’s the industry where we make our living and recruitment can be stressful at times too.  Moreover, a very recent report suggests that mental health issues are responsible for about one third of absences in construction and that’s an area where we, obviously, have an interest in both our contractor and trades divisions. 

While I am well aware we have a very long way to go to get rid of the macho image of tough construction men, working hard and playing hard, it’s reporting, research and peer group pressure from the top and bottom of companies that will eventually change hearts and minds.  At Peace, we’re wholeheartedly behind this increased focus on mental health in our industry and I’m sure everyone wants to see an end to these appalling statistics on suicides and mental health. It’s not always time to act tough…

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment

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