Landmark new research from CITB (@CITB_UK) has outlined the scale of the mental health challenge facing construction.  

A consistent approach to supporting construction workers’ mental health is the goal of a new initiative led by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) and CITB. 

CITB’s Mental Health And Construction: A Consistent Approach research, published today (Wednesday 4 August), is the most comprehensive study conducted on mental health and self-harm within construction. The report identifies opportunities for industry to address shortcomings and improve wellbeing for workers.  

The risk of suicide among some site-based workers is three times the national average and a May 2020 Chartered Institute of Building report found that 26% of construction workers who responded to their survey had experienced suicidal thoughts; 97% had experienced stress over the past year.  

CITB’s new research highlights a growing number of good initiatives but finds that their impact is currently held back by the lack of a coherent aim and message. Given the growing need to tackle mental health, developing a joined-up approach has become more urgent.  

The CLC has backed the research having already prioritised mental health in its recovery plan, and is now pulling industry together to agree a plan to address it. This will seek to tackle the underlying causes of poor mental health, generate better evidence of what impact the initiatives are achieving and develop a more joined up approach.              

Industry culture still perpetuates poor mental wellbeing. Factors include working away from home, heavy workloads, long working hours, and job insecurity. Poor management practices and understanding can exacerbate the problem, but some exemplars do a great job of looking after their workers - this inconsistency needs to be tackled. 

The level and quality of evidence must also improve. There is a range of different mental health and wellbeing support available from industry professional bodies, charities and employers. However, evidence of the effectiveness of the support available is limited.  

There needs to be more consistent and accessible support for workers in the smaller firms that supply larger ones. Many employers provide mental health and wellbeing support programmes to workers in their supply chains. However, these workers are often not aware that they can access mental health and wellbeing resources from their principal contractor.  

CITB has invested in programmes aimed at helping industry develop skills, behaviours and ways of working that will make it a safer, healthier place to work. Since June 2018 it has funded over 29.000 mental health courses. 

CITB provided funding for a Build UK and Timewise project where BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska and Willmott Dixon joined forces to identify what measures best enhanced flexible working for some 11,000 employees. 

Funding by CITB, through the Building Mental Health initiative, the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and Mental Health First Aid England, has helped train over 260 Mental Health First Aid Instructors.  

CITB Policy Director Steve Radley said: 

“The pandemic has shone an even brighter light on the need to tackle mental health across society. Construction faces greater challenges than most other industries but employers are demonstrating their awareness of the need to tackle it. The Building Mental Health programme beat its targets to train mental health first aiders by more than 40%.      

“As well as supporting construction workers, tackling mental health will help employers to retain more of them and get the best from them at a time when more firms are reporting skill shortages. We need strong industry leadership on this and it’s great to see CLC picking up the baton.”             

The CLC, with support from CITB, has already taken the lead in engaging with organisations to agree the best way to deliver an integrated support service of shared goals and strategies.  

CECA Chief Executive Alasdair Reisner, who leads the CLC workplace culture workstream, said: 

“The CLC is acutely aware of the mental health and wellbeing challenges faced by industry. Progress towards improving the situation has been frustratingly slow in recent years and there is no doubt that some of the statistics relating to mental health and construction are not good enough. 

“Encouragingly, this report from CITB includes good examples of best practice from which the whole sector can be inspired. The CLC will provide the shared vision and goals that industry has called for. We will do our utmost to accelerate improvements across the sector, particularly for SMEs, and look forward to collaborating with stakeholders on this crucial construction priority.” 

Building Mental Health, supported by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, provides free support and resources, from industry experts, to increase mental health awareness. 

Bill Hill, CEO of the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, said: 

“Doing things right is important. Doing right things can save lives. Implementing and measuring a comprehensive programme to improve workforce wellbeing in construction needs no thought, it is the right thing to do. It will improve the workplace culture, support and retain the existing workforce, make the industry more attractive to the next generation and will undoubtably save lives.

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