Suicide kills six times as many construction workers as falling from heights, according to mental health volunteers.
According to the Samaritans, a mental health organisation, greater attention must be given to depression and stress in industry, which was the topic of a seminar held by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), and CIBSE Patrons.
“With the amount of energy being put into managing physical risk; you have to question whether the industry is getting the health and safety balance right,” said Samaritans regional partnerships officer Will Skinner.
Someone in the UK takes their own life every 90 minutes and there were 6,122 recorded deaths by suicide in the UK in 2014 of which 76 per cent were men. In comparison, 1,775 persons lost their lives in car accidents last year. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50, with the highest suicide rates occurring in the age bracket of 45 to 59.
Depression and other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and paranoia over finances, are all major causes of early death. Guys from lower socioeconomic origins are 10 times more likely to die by suicide than men who have a better financial situation, according to Mr. Skinner, who spoke at the event.
The three building engineering agencies heard that sadness and suicide was the “forgotten health and safety issue”.
BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin, who hosted the event, said 80 per cent of employers in the building engineering sector understood mental health was a big issue and was already having an impact on their operations, according to a recent study of BESA and ECA members.
According to him, “Both large and small companies share the same concerns, but many simply don’t know how to deal with this,” he stated. In order to begin addressing the problem, it is necessary to acknowledge its existence, which is why Samaritans is now involved.
ECA head of Business Policy Paul Reeve argued that sustainable progress with mental health would require challenges to the current industrial culture that, too frequently, “simply labels anyone with a mental health issue as weak”. He remarked “it won’t be easy, but we must challenge this sort of prejudice”.
Mr McLaughlin added that how the industry operated and how it treated individuals was a big contributory cause to increased unhappiness and suicidal feelings in workers.
Mental health is rarely considered in the hundreds of risk assessments that are conducted across the sector, according to the expert. “In the industry, physical injuries and accidents are measured, which is why they are so significant. It’s time to develop a mental health programme of the same calibre.”
Together with Samaritans, the three building engineering industry organisations decided that this seminar would serve as the beginning of a major effort to address mental health issues in the industry, including raising awareness and providing specialised education as part of health and safety programmes.