Mental Health in Construction: Actions speak louder than words
With figures relating to mental health and suicide in the construction sector making for stark reading, we spoke with Paul Hooker, Managing Director at eco Electrical Contractors (South East) Limited, about how construction needs to change to help workers in the industry.
“Once again, the construction industry is telling me it’s miles behind the times”, he says.
We can just about deal with skills shortages, increasing material costs, the battle of tendering and value engineering. What we can’t handle is the overworking, unrealistic expectations and impossibly high demands that put an unbelievable amount of pressure on our workforce.
The construction industry is notorious for pushing back deadlines and running behind program. It’s almost laughable, really, that more time isn’t assigned as a buffer for every contractor to make amends, fix complications and deal with variations that may have come up. No project runs perfectly smoothly. If you’ve heard any differently, you’ve been lied to.
Like any other plan that you make, there’s always a risk that something will interfere and postpone things. Just like planning a picnic in Spring, the rain is always a possibility. We know that issues are going to arise, so why do we act so surprised and disappointed when they crop up?
We need to change the way we look at construction projects. Rather than stressing every person to their maximum, isn’t it better to plan for issues and have a more accurate time frame that allows for change, controversy and complications? Or better still, accept the fact that the cost of works is not just materials and labour. The prelims, planning and contingency are a key part of getting a quality result and they can’t just be cut from a budget to save money.
The immense pressure of LADs and prospects of future works can feel like a bomb strapped to our backs, terrifying us into overworking and stressing about the elephant in the room that’s inevitably going to explode. The question is, who will explode first? The man on the ground who is one step away from suicide, or the client because you pushed back the handover date by a week? I know what scenario I’d rather play out.
Maybe if construction workers weren’t under pressure every second of every day, less mistakes would be made, snagging lists would be shorter, and standards would be higher. Maybe if we change the way we see construction, as human beings pulling together to collaborate on something amazing, rather than robots who must do their jobs on time, without fail, we’d see less illness, better morale and more job satisfaction.
Not only is construction literally behind the times in my eyes, but individual companies are doing the bear minimum to support those with mental health issues. Not enough businesses have mental health policies. And of those that do, how many of these were implemented retrospectively? We need to make proactive changes to reduce stress levels that can cause poor mental health, not just support our workers once they’re at breaking point!
You may be proud of the fact that you have six mental health trained first aiders? But what are they doing? Sitting there waiting for someone to come to them with a problem, that’s what.
Why aren’t we acting on the problems that are right in front of us every single day? Any other industry’s employers would be torn apart for improper treatment if they enforced the pressure of deadlines on their workforce like we do. But it’s not the companies’ fault; it’s the construction industry’s. It’s stuck in its ways.
It’s not just ‘time to talk’. It’s time to change.
Paul Hooker is Managing Director at eco Electrical Contractors (South East) Limited
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