Despite many construction firms being able to carry on working throughout the pandemic, construction output across the UK fell by a record 40% in April, according to the ONS. Though May then saw a record 8.2% jump in output, this still represents a 30% decline in construction work happening. With the coronavirus still not fully repressed in most of the UK, social distancing and other public health measures will likely continue to hinder the complete return of building works in the coming months.
Additionally, the Construction Leadership Council has predicted a 10% drop in employment throughout the sector by September as firms brace for an incoming economic recession. The construction industry was wrestling with a mental health crisis before the coronavirus began its spread and with this news hanging over the heads of workers, mental health could be under even greater threat than before.
How deaths have affected construction workers
Men in skilled construction jobs have reported the highest number of deaths by occupation group – 500 deaths according to ONS figures from May. They also have the third highest rate of deaths per 100,000 people. With such a large amount of workers lost, this is likely to be damaging to those who worked with them. In addition to the lack of ability to grieve as we traditionally would, this could also indicate that construction work isn’t as safe as other professions. Leaders in the construction industry must ensure that new health and safety practices are followed to protect their staff as completely as possible.
Job satisfaction index
The Good Work Index by the CIPD is used to measure job satisfaction in multiple professional groups. The latest index, published earlier this year places skilled construction 12th out of 24. With a low satisfaction score before Covid and the threat of redundancies around the corner, this is likely to drop even further. As construction workers become less content with their work, this will undoubtedly contribute to issues with mental health. Though there are clearly more important issues facing the industry, mental health among construction workers is a major issue and focus still needs to be on tackling this to ensure a safe and secure work environment.
Mental health crisis pre-corona
The Stevenson/Farmer report from 2017 revealed that men in construction were 35% more likely to commit suicide than the national average. A 2019 survey by the Chartered Institute of Building also found that 90% of construction workers had experienced moderate to extreme levels of stress and only 56% of businesses had mental health policies in place. With poor mental health posing such an astonishing threat to the safety of workers when the industry was in good health, it’s clear that more needs to be done to support members of the industry through the expected hardship of the near future.
Free resources for construction workers
While expanding mental health policies at work is essential, those at risk of losing their jobs thanks to the shrinking economy will be left with no support if there is not enough done to signpost their way to helpful resources and practices. In addition to implementing their own policies, construction firms should make their employees aware of free resources that can help them deal with mental health troubles.
The Lighthouse Construction Charity mental health helpline saw a 25% rise in calls in April as the lockdown set in. This helpline is a useful tool for those who would benefit from talking through their anxieties with trained staff. The charity also offers a free app to help workers who don’t feel as comfortable talking through their issues with people directly.
Though the coronavirus pandemic was the biggest public health challenge of a generation and its effects have yet to finish taking their toll on society, mental health has consistently been a public health problem that construction has yet to get under control. With the industry due for a rocky future, this will be even more of a challenge and neglecting it could be costly.
This article was written by Damon Culbert from SMAS Worksafe, SSIP accreditation professionals for the construction industry.