Mental Health in the Construction Industry: 5 Key Improvements

As a nation we have felt uncomfortable discussing our mental health because there has been a negative stigma attached to it that has made it difficult for sufferers to speak out and seek help. 792 million people worldwide are affected by mental health issues and in a study conducted by MATES in Construction, mental health issues affect as many as one in four construction workers. Construction has a dangerous suicide rate that is three times the national average. 87.5% of the construction workforce are male and with suicide rates among men on the increase, there is growing concern that mental health conditions affecting construction workers has reached crisis point. So, what can the industry do to recognise mental health and how can more support be offered to improve well-being?

1. Culture Change

Construction has always been a male-dominated industry and inherent beliefs that men should be ‘tough’, and ‘macho’ translate into huge risk factors when it comes to talking about mental health in this sector. The industry needs to break down these gender stereotypes to encourage men to talk about how they are feeling and issues that are affecting them. The culture within construction needs to change and the rhetoric needs to shift from an old-fashioned definition of masculinity inferring men should ‘just get on with it’ to a 21st century acceptance that men should ‘talk about it.’ As the sector continues to encourage and attract more women into construction roles, this will have a positive impact on diluting the prevalent male bravado culture and will promote an environment where open communication and feeling comfortable asking for help are normalised.

2. Raise Awareness

Three quarters of all registered deaths from suicides in the UK are men. Data from the Office of National Statistics show 13.2% of suicides reported at work between 2011-2015 were people from the skilled construction and building trades, an alarming figure when you consider that construction accounts for just over 7% of the UK workforce. Males aged 45-49 years of age had the highest suicide rate. With an ageing male-majority workforce, it is crucial that construction companies raise awareness of mental health problems and develop an environment where employees feel safe and secure talking about issues that could affect their well-being.

A report commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) in 2019 revealed 26% of construction industry professionals had experienced suicidal thoughts. This statistic is likely to be much higher now post the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a detrimental impact on people’s mental health. The CIOB report, ‘Understanding Mental Health in the Built Environment’, also highlighted 56% of construction professionals work for organisations with no policies on mental health in the workplace. Construction companies must show their commitment to raising awareness and tackling the problem by introducing policies that are sensitive and considerate to mental health. Implementing a mental health policy and conducting team meetings to openly discuss and encourage dialogue surrounding the topic firmly puts this important issue on the agenda and helps employees to feel supported.

The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention is helping to raise awareness about the risk of suicide in the industry and provides companies tools and resources to create a safe environment.

3. Offer Support

It is important for construction companies to ensure a robust support network is integrated throughout their team, so individuals feel supported, and an open and safe working environment is created. People often suffer in silence with mental health issues, worried about the repercussions or discrimination that might occur because of opening up and talking about a personal and often highly emotive subject. Companies must recognise that employees might not immediately feel comfortable asking for help, which is why it vital to make resources available to teams, equipping them with a support toolkit so they know where they can turn to seek help and advice. Building Mental Health is a voluntary group of people from the construction industry who collate information and best practice around mental health issues. They are advocates of the Building Mental Health Charter; a process map designed for construction organisations to pledge their commitment to promoting awareness and understanding of mental health, reducing stigma, and supporting employees.

Construction companies can help their employees by introducing an employee assistance programme, ensuring there is always a trained member of staff available to talk to who is qualified to handle mental health issues. All construction employees should be made aware of the Construction Industry Helpline, as well as dedicated mental health charities such as MIND. Consideration should be given to employment benefits packages that include professional counselling services, sick leave for mental health days and flexible working arrangements to accommodate therapy appointments around shift work.

More than 30% of all construction sites have no hot water, and no toilet facilities for workers. These things have an impact on mental health and wellbeing. Construction companies must strive to improve conditions to ensure the working environment is not adversely affecting the health of employees.

4. Educate

Education is empowerment, so it is a key consideration when addressing the deteriorating state of mental health within construction that companies educate their workforce about the diverse range of mental health conditions and the causes, as well as raising awareness and offering support to lead the way in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

A career in construction can be varied and very rewarding, but it can also be stressful and demanding, both physically and emotionally. Long hours, time away from loved ones, manual and physically demanding work, chronic pain from work-related injuries and the fear of seasonal redundancies can cause exhaustion, pressure, job insecurity and in some cases drug or alcohol abuse; all contributing factors to poor mental health that can manifest as conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

5. Mental Health Training

The Government identify that mental health awareness and support is critical to improving the well-being of the workforce across the country and have pledged a funding pot of £500 million for a Recovery Action Plan to accelerate the expansion of mental health services and provide people with the support they need.

The construction industry must tackle the issue of mental health head on and start to engage with the Government and mental health professionals to identify risks and improve awareness through training and staff events. It is recommended that the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) is reviewed to include mental health support and the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 are updated to ensure workplaces make provisions for mental first aid.

Education and training will help managers and employees to spot the early warning signs of mental health disorders in their work colleagues. These can include reduced productivity, lateness or absenteeism, uncharacteristic aggression or confrontation with co-workers, a lack of self-confidence and withdrawn behaviour, becoming increasingly isolated from the team. Trained mental health first-aiders will be well-prepared to recognise these symptoms and respond appropriately.

Statistics from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England show 1 in 5 people take a day off due to stress but 90% of these people report a different reason for their absence. Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and costs £34.9 billion each year. 69% of UK line managers say that supporting employee wellbeing is a core skill, but only 13% have received mental health training.

The construction industry undeniably needs to make mental health an urgent priority, not just for the well-being of the workforce, but to improve business efficiency and costs associated with poor management of mental health conditions. By transforming the culture, raising awareness, and offering support about mental health, educating and training the workforce, construction companies can re-shape and reduce the problems of mental health issues within the industry.

The Top 5 Benefits of Employing a Local Supply Chain

The effect of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced UK companies to evaluate how robust their supply chains are and to implement strategies to future proof their business as the procurement landscape undergoes a significant transformation. An increased global demand for raw materials such as steel, timber, PVC, and chemicals has led to shortages in supply and unprecedented price increases. The explosive combination of China’s economic recovery, the stockpiling of materials because of new Brexit regulations and import tariffs and the container supply shortages forcing shipping rates up, has resulted in the construction industry evaluating the tangible benefits of a local supply chain. So, what are the key advantages of buying locally?

1. Flexibility

The disruption caused by Covid to many manufacturing supply chains has taught us that a business must be agile when it comes to procurement to ensure business continuity. According to the Office for National Statistics, the total trade in goods with EU countries decreased by 23.1% and with non-EU countries decreased by 0.8% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with Quarter 1 in 2018. A fundamental benefit to a local supply chain is the flexibility it offers to scale up to meet supply and demand during peak times. Lead-times for production and delivery are notably reduced because the materials are not subject to a lengthy journey from overseas or delays at customs.

2. Control

Being in control of your supply chain allows you to be reactive to market demand whilst keeping a tight hold on costs. Efficiency and communication are key, so selecting suppliers with whom you trust and have built a strong working relationship with will help you maintain quality, supply, and cash flow. This is much easier to do if suppliers are local, as sites can be inspected, and procedures observed to ensure quality control is satisfactory and meetings in person help to build long-lasting relationships. The challenges with working with international suppliers are that it is not so easy to pop in to check on operations or to talk through and resolve problems quickly. These benefits link in with the key requirements of a supply chain as outlined by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), which are: Connectivity; the capability to exchange information with external supply chain partners in a suitable format for facilitating collaboration. Integration; the process of combining or coordinating separate functions to enable effortless interaction. Visibility; the ability to access relevant data in terms of its relevance and importance to the supply chain and Responsiveness; the ability to react quickly and effectively to customer needs by delivering the right product at the right time and at the right cost.

3. Cost-Effective

Logistics costs within construction refer to the expense incurred from moving raw materials from the source of extraction or production to the project site. Construction logistics is an essential part of supply chain management, with off-site transportation of materials estimated to account for 10-20% of the total project expenditure in typical construction projects, it is a cost that construction managers and planners need to better understand so that logistics activities can be evaluated, and the costs reduced. Sourcing from local suppliers and in bulk quantities for storage of materials on-site can help drive down overall costs to keep projects within budget, as well as reducing the project’s carbon footprint.

4. Environmental Benefits

Construction companies are working hard to shake off their reputation as an environment damaging industry with high energy consumption and harmful carbon dioxide levels. Responsible for commissioning over 40% of builds, the Government is the UK’s largest construction client. To ensure the construction industry reduces their impact on the environment they have set out several socioeconomic and environmental sustainability targets which must be adhered to. These include a focus on using renewable and recyclable resources, the reduction of waste and energy consumption, protecting the natural habitat and building non-toxic, healthy, and high-quality environments. These key principles form the building blocks of sustainable construction.

Engaging with local SME’s and employing them within your supply chain contributes towards greener manufacturing by reducing shipping and storage, which in turn reduces carbon emissions and energy usage. The protection of the environment and sustainable manufacturing is a hot topic, so the more that construction companies do to promote best practice in these areas, the more it will boost their reputation and secure more business by demonstrating a corporate social responsibility. There is a growing demand for contractors to have an awareness of their social and environmental impact on communities, ensuring your supply chain can demonstrate dedication to carbon footprint reduction, will lead to higher levels of success when tendering for and securing contracts.

5. Local Community Benefits

As local authorities continue to invest in priority infrastructure to meet the growing demands of communities across the country and boost economic growth, there is an understandable expectation that the public money invested into these projects will provide benefits for local communities that are more far-reaching than just the build alone. Over 90% of UK construction contractors are SME’s, making them the cornerstone of the construction supply chain. Prioritising SME’s, local labour, goods, and services improves employment opportunities within the area and supports local economic growth. These are key benefits to support corporate social responsibility within construction projects. For these reasons it is important that large construction companies adopt SMEs as pillars of strength within their core supply chains and remove obstacles that can deter SME’s from accessing contracts or working closely with Tier 1 contractors. This can be done by providing clear visibility of the future pipeline of work, supporting SMEs to take on more apprentices to close the skills gap in the sector, and working with public sector bodies to improve procurement processes so that SME’s can access collaborative procurement frameworks. Framework arrangements, such as North West Construction Hub and Scape Group, can increase opportunities for SMEs, directly or via the supply chain, if framework operators make it a requirement and the contractors involved deliver on their commitments. Procurement frameworks recognise the importance of using purchasing within construction as a device to roll-out the spend as widely as possible through the local economy through local businesses, which in turn benefits local communities and develops a skilled workforce.


The Importance of Information Security and GDPR Compliance within the Construction Industry

A core asset for all construction companies is their data. It is no longer sufficient to just consider the protection of offices, building sites and machinery. As the construction industry continues to rapidly progress and adopt advancing technology, the digitisation of highly sensitive data puts companies at an increasingly higher risk of cyber-attacks. Building information models, documents, designs, drawings, supply chain databases and personal data are being processed, stored, and shared. This data must be secure to protect their commercial value and be compliant with GDPR. The Government conducted a Cyber Security Breaches Survey in 2020 which revealed 46%, nearly half, of all businesses in the UK have been subject to a cyber security attack. The loss of data or money can have serious repercussions for a business, but it can also incur substantial costs. Of those who experienced a cyber-attack, 39% reported they were negatively impacted by the breach, and it caused wider business disruption. So, what is the current legislation regarding GDPR compliance and how can construction companies’ future proof their business to protect information security?

GDPR Compliance Post-Brexit

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a framework of data protection rules that determine how people access their personal data and controls how organisations use personal and confidential data. On 25th May 2018, EU GDPR was incorporated into UK law in symbiosis with the Data Protection Act 2018. It applies to all individuals and organisations within the European Union including any countries who conduct business within the EU. The legislation protects all aspects of personal data that are associated with identity. The UK left the EU on 1st January 2021 and introduced UK-GDPR, a replica of the EU version with the continued support of the Data Protection Act 2018. A provision was agreed within the Trade and Cooperation Agreement as part of the Brexit deal, that allowed the UK and the EU to continue with an unrestricted flow of data for an interim 6-month period. Within this provision the UK became a third country under EU GDPR, and as a result the transfer of personal data from the EU to the UK is permitted only if the level of data protection in the UK is deemed as equivalent to that of the EU. The European Commission must confirm the level of data protection with an adequacy decision which will grant the UK adequacy status under the GDPR if approved, securing a free flow of data for the future.

However, an official decision on adequacy status is yet to be received as we approach the end of the transition period. On 19th February, the European Commission released its draft adequacy decision which was largely positive indicating the UK should be awarded adequacy status for a fixed four-year period until a further review is required. In April, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) announced it was in favour of the draft decision but recommended a few improvements in relation to national security and immigration. But in May, with a very narrow majority, MEPs in the European Parliament rejected the decision. A final decision by the Commission on the adequacy status is expected in the coming months but until then, from 1st July 2021 construction companies are strongly advised to secure data transfers from the EU to the UK with other safeguards such as standard contractual clauses, until the draft adequacy decisions are approved. If the decisions are approved, this would be positive news and offer certainty to both UK and EEA businesses with transboundary data exchange.

Why Construction Companies Need to be GDPR Compliant

Penalties for non-compliance to UK-GDPR regulations are severe. Breaches can see fines imposed of up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover or €20m, whichever is the greatest value. GDPR represents a very significant commercial risk and should be treated as a serious responsibility. There can be no excuses when it comes to understanding the legislation and compliance will be evaluated based on evidence of how your policies, procedures, technical measures, and training take GDPR into consideration. Any organisation tendering for a public sector contract must be able to demonstrate GDPR compliance, as public sector bodies fall under scrutiny to provide evidence of policies and safeguards from their supply chain as part of any tender process or framework.

Construction companies have an obligation to be open and honest with their employees and suppliers about how their personal data is used and stored. Companies must be able to respond in a timely manner to subject access requests (SARs). These are requests by individuals who want to see a copy of information held about them. SARs require a response within 30 days which could mean that information needs to be stored and organised in such a way that the information can be accessed quickly, and the response deadline can be met. Supply chain management is crucial and construction companies need to ensure there are provisions and terms within their contracts that ensure suppliers adhere to the standard requirements of data protection so that evidence can be produced to demonstrate GDPR compliance. Failure to evidence GDPR compliance can be extremely costly, resulting in fines, loss of reputation and loss of business.

Information Security in the Construction Industry

Highly sensitive and confidential data is increasingly being stored on software systems to provide agile communication networks and auditable records. Whilst these advancements improve organisation and efficiency of business operations, they expose construction companies to a higher threat of data breaches and cyber security attacks which can cause disruption, loss of revenue, affect productivity and damage credibility. According to Government statics from a survey conducted by Specops Software, construction businesses spent an average £3,750 on cyber security in 2018-19, a staggering 188% increase on the previous year’s spend. The construction industry is realising the importance of protecting their valuable data.

Cyber Essentials is a government-backed and industry-supported scheme that helps businesses protect themselves against the growing threat of cyber-attacks and provides a clear framework of the basic controls organisations should have in place to protect themselves. The Government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) offers a certification for completing the scheme and claims to reduce your cyber risk by up to 98.5%. It covers important information security controls such as firewalls, secure configurations, control user access, anti-malware, and phishing. It is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to cybersecurity to employees, contracting partners and clients. Internationally recognised credentials are attainable which include ISO/IEC 27001 and SOC 2.

Supply chain management is key and in the same way GDPR compliance is expected to be demonstrable throughout your supply chain, as to is cyber and information security. Average losses resulting from cyber breaches spiked at 61% in 2019, rising from £176,000 to £283,722, compared with the previous year and attacks are predicted to increase year on year. It is essential for the construction industry to protect their core assets and control and manage data responsibly and compliantly to future proof their business.