Unravelling The Mental Health Crisis In Construction

Burflex House, Clay Street, Hull, East Yorkshire, HU8 8HA E. info@burflex.co.uk

Burflex House, Clay Street, Hull, East Yorkshire, HU8 8HA E. info@burflex.co.uk

Unravelling The Mental Health Crisis In Construction

Unravelling The Mental Health Crisis In Construction

Scaffolders in Lincoln, along with other construction workers across the UK are at risk of a mental health epidemic that isn’t getting the recognition it deserves.

The problem of poor mental health among construction workers has come to light since Unite The Union revealed there were ten suicide attempts in the first four months of 2019, among workers at Hinkley Point.  There has also been a significant increase in the number of people being signed of sick with stress, depression and anxiety. There have already been suicides of workers at the site and former workers reported to the union and EDF, who own the site where the UK’s next nuclear power plant is set to be built.

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

“We are in a phase now with mental health where we were with safety 50 years ago,” said Davies, who is also a champion of mental health first aid at Hinkley Point. “The same number of people are going off, only now they are not going off with injuries. They are going off with stress.”

Though this particular project is in the spotlight, the union believes this run of events at Hinkley Point has highlighted an unrecognised problem that is blighting the construction industry.

High suicide rate

The rate of suicide of men working in the construction industry is three times higher than it is for men in the general population. This is the highest rate of suicide of any profession in the country. The next highest suicide rates by profession are found among electricians and drivers.

The reasons behind this are myriad but not particularly well researched.

It is thought that working a long way from families is problematic, and this could be behind some of the problems at Hinkley Point. Workers there live on specially made campuses or digs and bussed to the site, and work as many as 11 days in a row for three days off, with an extra day allowed for travel as it is acknowledged how far from home many of the workers are. It has been noted that there are problems emerging with gambling in the local town and it is suspected that drinking problems may be high among Hinkly Point workers. Many of the workers themselves blame this on isolation and distance from support networks.

Construction sites may also pose some particular problems as they are exclusively male, and high-pressured environments with multiple tiers and tight margins to meet. The isolation many workers experience away from home may compound these problems.

EDF has introduced counsellors and even Frank Bruno has come to visit workers, but many cite a highly macho environment that discourages people from talking about problems and leads to destructive behaviours and the exacerbation of mental health problems.