By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East
Like many industries, construction has its pressures. Our industry has and always will be a stressful industry, with workload, client demands and budget concerns being a daily worry, but as an industry, we need to take the issues of workplace stress and mental health very seriously. That’s not to say we aren’t, health and safety has always been one of the main focuses in the industry, but there’s often debates over which is more important. Employees working in the industry need to know that their mental health is just as important to us as their physical well-being.
Demands from employers and clients, low margins and a culture of confrontation can create a perfect storm for mental health issues to develop. The pressures and demands faced at work can create huge stress and anxiety – which can be pushed to the edge if not managed in the correct way. According to statistics from safety barrier manufacturer, A-SAFE, 48% of workers are kept awake as a result of workplace stress with some losing more than 10 hours of sleep a week. Almost 70% in the sector suffer from Sunday night blues, with the data also showing that 16% of workers regularly lose sleep, with a further 32% experiencing occasional loss of sleep. Given how dangerous our industry can be, it worries me to think of those workers operating heavy machinery or making important decisions on minimal hours of sleep.
There are some companies and projects in the industry encouraging long hour days. I know it’s common for activity on sites to ramp up when the deadline is approaching but some sites operate 24 hours a day, with workers offered bonuses for working obscenely long hours. Over the last few months, two Construction News investigations have uncovered job adverts for two high-profile projects seeking workers for 15 and 16-hour-a-day roles. The odd shift here and there might not be a big deal, but if you’re doing it weekly without recovery time, it could be very detrimental to your health and wellbeing.
All the work we’ve been doing (and there’s been a lot) to look more into health and safety and mental health initiatives, will be pointless if we can’t understand the impact of working long shifts day after day. I understand pressure to finish a project has the potential to drive subcontractors to work these kind of hours and when the client is desperately seeking completion the pressure on the contractor is huge. What worries me, is that the industry has done nothing to assess the effects of long hours on productivity and safety. Obviously, productivity is very important, but for me there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our workers.
The construction industry isn’t going anywhere, we’re always going to need houses building, but unless we take more care of ourselves both individually and as an industry, the industry will be a very different place in no time.
For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.