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Study finds construction workers at higher risk of suicide

Initiatives aimed at protecting the mental health of construction workers may not be getting to those who need them, leading to an increased risk of suicide, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University have warned.

The new findings come after academics at the University’s Research Centre for Built Environment Asset Management (BEAM) Centre helped develop a ‘dashboard’ of wellbeing for the industry, commissioned by construction mental-health charity, the Lighthouse Club.

The dashboard will be an interactive database, bringing together in one place measurable data in the public domain on construction safety, health and wellbeing. This will be updated yearly, allowing industry organisations, policy makers and researchers to view trends via graphs generated by the data, as well as use it to track progress of industry initiatives, inform decision making and undertake further analysis using the source data.

The work involved bringing data together on suicides – seen as the ‘acid test’ as to whether mental-health initiatives are working – for the period immediately before and subsequently after the UK Government Independent Review on mental health ‘Thriving at work’ in 2017.

Analysis of suicides by occupation, conducted by Professor Billy Hare (pictured, above), who is leading the study, demonstrated that the number per 100,000 for construction workers rose from 26 to 29 in the four years to 2019, despite various initiatives and thousands of awareness training sessions put in place since publication of the Government report in 2017.

The data also shows no change in historical ratios, with people in the construction industry three times more likely to take their own life than those working outside it. There also appears to be some variation between certain occupational groups within the industry.

Those working in non-manual occupations, such as managers and professionals, have lower rates, which have also seen an overall drop in rate from just under 7 in 2015, to just under 5 per 100,000 in 2019. Conversely, unskilled workers, such as labourers, have seen their rate rise year on year from 48 to just over 73 suicides per 100,000.

Professor Hare said: “This occupational group is usually higher than average for suicides, but the sharp rise and widening gap over the period analysed, in contrast to their non-manual colleagues, is concerning and may indicate recent initiatives are not reaching these more vulnerable sectors of the industry.

“Unskilled workers tend to fall into the lowest socio-economic classes, which are associated with lower life expectancy in general, and tend to display the classic characteristics linked to poor mental health, such as alcohol and substance abuse, financial and relationship problems and suffer multiple stressful life events.”

Professor Hare cautioned, however, that these are just preliminary findings and more robust data needs to be obtained so that factors such as age can be controlled for. Usable data was only available for England and Wales, and the team are hoping to also add those for Scotland and Northern Ireland in due course.

Meanwhile, researchers led by Professor Hare are also undertaking a review of construction-specific factors around suicide, funded by the Samaritans. This research will inform the charity’s development of intervention strategies to reduce the high rates seen in the construction industry.

HSE Software: The Foundation of Improved Health and Safety for Construction Companies

By She Software Ltd

Consider these data points. In 2019, the number of fatalities on U.S. construction sites were 1,066. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), there were 40 fatal injuries across 2019 and 2020.

This fatality data probably isn’t all that surprising. Construction is a dangerous and inconsistent business. Worksites are rarely the same place twice. There are strict deadlines, budget constraints, and a skilled labour shortage which constantly plague the construction industry.

Furthermore, a constant ebb and flow of workers and third-party contractors, evolving environmental conditions, and exposure to the elements are not conducive to a safe working environment.

Although many factors contribute to the rise in incidents, one factor could help reduce it: creating and establishing efficiency by replacing manual safety processes with HSE software. Let’s look at ways HSE management software can help your construction business improve its health and safety programs.

Click here to read more.

How safety is driving green shoots in the UK construction industry

It goes without saying that all industries are facing difficult times trying to negotiate the impact of a global pandemic. Add into the equation the uncertainty over Brexit, and years of being in the doldrums, and the UK construction sector hasn’t had it easy. But could a brighter future be on the horizon, driven by new safety initiatives?

The first sign that things are heading in the right direction, at least from an economic point of view, is highlighted by the HIS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rating. Used to highlight global economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors, June’s record jump of 11.4 index points was a five-month high — and a statistic that shows a correlation between lockdowns easing and economies starting to recover. 

But with the global index covering much more than just the UK, it’s important to dig a little deeper to see what the current state-of-play looks like for the country’s construction industry.  

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that construction output suffered a 40% collapse in April this year, with the pandemic behind a 41.2% decrease in new work and 38.1% decrease in repair and maintenance. 

Not only do the dramatic falls represent a financial hole of £5.1 billion, but they also account for the most significant drops since records began 10 years ago. May’s figures show a small sign of improvement for construction output, with an 8.2% increase  — compared to April’s figure — being accredited to the easing of lockdown restrictions

With the next update from the ONS not due to be published until 12 August it’s impossible to say right now whether things have continued to improve, but with May’s slight increase and June’s PMI record rating jump, the hope is that the industry continues to head in the right direction. 

However, even the ONS admits that it’s difficult to quantify the exact impact of the coronavirus alone, with the unpredictability of a virus that could have a second, third or fourth wave. 

The safety factor 

Whilst construction output and economic recovery will take time to reach levels seen before the virus hit, another aspect to consider from the eased restrictions is the return of people to work on construction sites — and the health and safety of working conditions. 

Not only must workers be able to carry out work under standard health and safety regulations, but there’s the added caveat of following social distancing and hygiene measures — putting an even greater focus on health and safety in the construction industry. 

On one hand, you have the introduction of the Building Safety Bill, which takes forward reforms of the building and fire safety system — for how a building is built and how safe it is once the structure is complete. On the other, the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures during COVID-19 are aimed at protecting workforces from the virus. 

The former is a notable introduction since the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, and the latter will develop over time, as the guidelines have already had five iterations, with plenty more issues to be produced if the pandemic continues to change at a speed that feels like it’s overnight. 

Both are positive steps for improving conditions within the industry and pivotal if the world of construction is to move forward positively.

Although not directly connected, the two pieces of legislation do work in tandem. Without the Safety Bill, you run the risk of unsafe buildings built in an unsafe way, and without the guidelines for working during COVID-19, you can’t implement the new ways in which buildings have to be built, all the way from design to completion. 

And among all of this is the workers and their working environment. Life on a construction site can be challenging. It’s less collaborative working spaces and more using the land in which the building is being built on. 

There’s a huge range of on-site facilities needed during projects, including offices, canteens, drying rooms, toilet blocks, and storage facilities in a variety of sizes and layouts — with these facilities often found inside a storage container

The close proximities of workers make social distancing a tough measure to get right, with the threat of site closure if guidelines are not implemented correctly

But the good news is that a course for safe working during the pandemic has been launched by industry specialists. CovCert is an online programme designed to provide employees with an understanding of how to work safely and minimise the risks from COVID-19. 

The initiative is a collaboration between industry expert Green Hat Consulting and construction workforce specialist Sphere Solutions — and will serve to educate and ensure that construction sites continue to be safe and compliant. 

Speaking about the course, Andrew Warring, managing director of Green Hat Consulting, said: “CovCert is aimed at employees who are returning to work on construction sites. The courses are intended to raise Covid-19 awareness and provide employees with the knowledge required to minimise the risk of transmission and infection within the workplace, as well as providing an induction for new employees and informing on up to date guidance.”

It’s another positive step in the right direction and will help those who’ve been unsure of going back to work to be more confident on the construction site, which will no doubt benefit the company they work for and the project they’re helping complete. 

Overall, there’s slight indications that the industry is starting to see a positive upturn in its fortunes, although there’s still a lot of work to be done and the unknown of what the actual impacts of Brexit will be. With such an unpredictable virus and landscape for the world of construction, it’s important that small steps are made as frequently as possible to avoid another decade in the doldrums.