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Tackling suicide risks in the construction sector

The Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) has expressed concern at worrying new figures which reveal the high risk of suicide associated with certain key construction jobs, as it called for a more consistent approach to mental health and suicide prevention under the new Mates in Mind programme for the construction sector.

The latest research, recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), warns that suicide is the leading cause of death in England in adults below the age of 50, but that people working in some occupations are at far higher risk of suicide than others.

Indeed, several jobs in the construction industry are associated with very high risks of suicide, as shown by the following figures:

  • Between 2011 and 2015, 1,419 people working in the construction industry completed suicide. The risk to construction workers is 1.6 times higher than the national average;
  • The risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers is three times higher than the national male average. However, for the construction workers in this group, whose jobs involve the most simple, routine and physical work, such as digging foundations or cleaning tools, the risk is even higher, at 3.7 times above the national average;
  • Besides these low-skilled jobs, another high risk group is men working in skilled building finishing roles such as plasterers, painters and decorators, who face a suicide risk of twice the national average;
  • Other skilled construction workers found to be at high risk of suicide are roofers, tilers and slaters, where the risk is 2.7 times higher than the national average.

Highlighting the statistics, the HCLG said the research resonates strongly with the goals of Mates in Mind, the UK construction industry’s new mental health charitable programme. It has been set up in partnership with the HCLG and the British Safety Council to get the UK construction industry talking about mental health and with this goal in mind, an industry-specific training and awareness programme is being developed.

The programme includes a 45-minute awareness session which is designed to be rolled out to all construction-based personnel. The programme will also include access to a further two training modules specifically designed and tailored for the construction industry.  These target mental health awareness for managers and mental health first aid.

As a sector-wide initiative, Mates in Mind is aimed at encouraging a more consistent approach to improving and promoting positive mental health within the construction industry in the UK.

The programme is aligned to the government’s Construction 2025 timescales and aims to have reached close to 75 per cent of the UK construction population by 2025, with the capacity to touch 100,000 in the first year.

Commenting on the aims of Mates in Mind, Steve Hails of Tideway and Chair of the Mates in Mind Board said, “There is a great deal that employers can do to support mental health at work and ensuring an effective approach to tackling issues such as anxiety and depression is an excellent starting point. Suicidal thoughts are far more common than people realise – one in five adults say they have thought about taking their own life at some point. However, suicide is not inevitable – it is preventable. Most people who experience suicidal thoughts don’t go on to take their own life.”

He added: “Too often the stigma of mental illness and suicide prevents people from talking about this, yet employers can help by creating an environment in which employees are able to talk openly about how they feel, and to ask for help when they need it, without fear of discrimination or prejudice.”

Currently, the detailed structure and arrangements for the whole programme are nearing completion. Training provider partners and Mates in Mind have been working together to pilot and adapt the elements of the programme and supporting material to ensure consistent messaging and quality while ensuring the cost model works for all. The wider first phase roll-out of the programme is on target for early summer 2017.

For organisations which may have already started their own training, the aim is to provide a flexible approach over time and bring different equivalent elements together under the Mates in Mind support banner, building on the ethos of the HCLG of working collaboratively.

Mates in Mind is reliant on donations to maintain and develop partnerships and approaches to mental wellbeing in the construction sector. To make a donation or to find out more, visit www.matesinmind.org/interested-donating or email support@matesinmind.org