January 23, 2020

Mental health crisis highlighted at Hinkley Point C

Hinkley Point nuclear power station, Britain’s biggest construction project since the Second World War, is grappling with a mental illness crisis, with several attempted suicides since work began in 2016, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

More than 4,000 workers are on site delivering the vast decade-long building project, a central plank in Britain’s future energy strategy.

But according to union officials, there has been a surge in suicide attempts this year, a rise in the number of people off sick with stress, anxiety and depression, and an increase in workers suffering from mental distress.

Officials from the Unite union say they have been told of 10 suicide attempts in the first four months of 2019. The Guardian understands at least two workers connected to the project have taken their lives since construction started in earnest in 2016.

“We were in utter shock when they told us the statistics around suicides and mental health,” said Malcolm Davies, a convenor at the Unite union at Hinkley Point C. “The scale of the mental health issues at Hinkley is something I have never seen before.”

Executives say that a number of workers have said they are suicidal, but point to a wide range of measures to address the problem, including 200 mental health “buddies”, “time to talk” rooms, an on-site GP, and plans to recruit a chaplain.

The construction industry has long been blighted by poor mental health. Suicide rates are more than three times the national average for men.  

Contributing factors in an overwhelmingly male environment (more than 85% of construction workers are male) are bullying, homesickness, job insecurity, financial pressures and isolation, which are sometimes compounded by drink, drugs and gambling.