Survey reveals high levels of stress and mental illness among construction workers

UCATT-logo_0A survey has revealed very real concerns about the prevalence of mental health problems amongst construction workers, while another has urged the industry to increase its performance in managing workplace related stress.

The results of a survey of its members by UCATT, which was published at the union’s conference yesterday, found that 64 per cent said they are suffering from stress and 76 per cent said they had at some point suffered stress in the workplace.

A total of 30 per cent of respondents have taken time off work due to stress, 93 per cent of which did not tell UCATT about it.

Brian Rye, UCATT Acting General Secretary, said this is something the union now hopes to change.

He said: “Governments may not take too much notice of stress in the workplace but UCATT does. What this survey shows us is that we have a significant issue affecting thousands of us in our daily lives, and which degrades our lives to such an extent we take time off work.”

With regards to mental health, 35 per cent of respondents said that they were suffering from a mental illness or had suffered from a mental illness. Of these members 44 per cent had time off due to mental health issues but 75 per cent had not raised their problems with management. In total 57 per cent of respondents said their workplace had no interest in their mental health.

Mr Rye added: “UCATT’s aim is to bring the discussion of mental health in the construction industry into the foreground. Our members’ mental health is just as important to us as their physical wellbeing. The taboo of not talking about depression and anxiety needs to be addressed – for everyone’s health and safety. Let’s change our industry and our society for the better.”

The two main mental health areas that caused members most pain were depression and anxiety as 75 per cent had experienced depression and 58 per cent anxiety. 72 per cent of respondents said they mentioned absolutely nothing to anyone at work about their problems.

It is also apparent that workers are increasingly isolated. Members were asked if they had at least one close friend, to which 81 per cent said yes, but 19 per cent said no, meaning almost a fifth had no one that they could confide in outside of their partner.

UCATT said it is making concerted moves to bring mental health out of the shadows.

The findings follow a CITB ‘stress test’ survey in which construction employers awarded the sector a score of only 4.5 out of 10 for its overall performance in managing workplace stress.

Released to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week (16 -22 May), the telephone survey of over 100 construction employers found that more than a third (36 per cent) described their workplace as a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ stress environment. One in five (20 per cent) however, were unsure how they would support an employee suffering from work-related stress.

While most respondents (71 per cent) were able to suggest a personal response that they would make to help a workmate, less than half (47 per cent) were inclined to suggest formal solutions to tackle the problem.

The top three likely reactions from employers were:

  1. to offer informal support or friendship (34 per cent)

  2. suggesting counselling or where to find it (23 per cent)
  3. paid time off work (20 per cent).
  4. When asked how they would know an employee was suffering from stress, about half (53 per cent) said that they would probably detect a problem by just chatting to an employee. However, about a third (33 per cent) thought they would only hear about it when a problem on the job occurred.

    The HSE Stress Management Standards describe stress as an adverse reaction to excessive pressure. While pressure can create a “buzz” and be a motivating factor, stress can lead to depression, anxiety and an increased risk of suicide.

    Kevin Fear, head of environment and health & safety at CITB, said: “While it’s good news that many construction employers recognise stress in the workplace, we need to do more to support individual colleagues. Mental health has been a taboo subject that’s been brushed under the carpet for far too long.

    “We need to put an end to the culture of ‘silently coping’, which can be damaging to both worker health and business performance. Encouragingly, some contractors are starting to develop policies and great initiatives to promote good mental health and wellbeing. We’d like to see the organisations that are making good inroads in this area share their experiences widely so that others across the industry can learn from them. We want others to pick this mantle, and Mental Health Awareness Week is a great time to start.”

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