Construction Wellbeing: exploring the ‘underbelly’ of construction.

Mental health in construction is worsening. Suicide rates are over 3 times higher than other sectors. It is essential we understand and address contributing causes with some urgency.

Over the last 6 months I have been delivering a series of one day workshops that focus on exploring construction’s ‘underbelly’ issues on sessions that included directors, managers and operatives. These are issues that are affect personal wellbeing, wellness (as in health and safety), quality, sustainability, productivity, and therefore financial performance.

Here is an overview and synopsis of the issues covered and discussed … 

Wellness or Wellbeing?
We need a clear understanding of the difference. Within construction we have, for many years, been successfully treating wellness as in physical health through health and safety approaches. However wellbeing is the much wider scenario of holistic mind health and happiness, requiring different skills and perspectives.

Health
The WHO definition of health as a “State of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ should be a clear guide to addressing health in construction.

Causes
Distraction, mental health, exhaustion and suicide top the NBS TOP12 list of injury, illness and death in construction. These are issues that cannot be fixed with PPE, but require new thinking and new skills, for example we are seeing wellbeing first aiders and health & safety managers becoming wellbeing managers

Fit for Construction 
In any sport, warm up and recovery is recognised as an essential part of training and fitness. In construction, we rarely give space to or participate in stretching and recovery exercises, even where there is manual work or lifting involved.

Image
The public perception and image of construction is not good, weakened by Carilion, Grenfell. The workshops Construction 101 exercise nominates construction issues that are bad, ugly and unacceptable, but are common place across far too many sites

Well Construction
We are designing green buildings at highest levels of LEED and BREEAM, to Well Build standards, with biophilic approaches that have a design aspiration to address and improve the health and wellbeing of those who work live and play within our buildings. We have not applied the same ethos to the work environment or welfare facilities for those in the construction process.

Biophilic Construction
It is time to re-image project accommodation, canteen and toilet facilities. Within the workshop’s construction 101 exercise, toilet and welfare facilities are consistently nominated to room 101 as being ugly or unacceptable aspects of construction.

Senses
We know that workplaces that focus on intangibles, ie, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are workplaces better equipped to boost employee wellbeing. Unfortunately construction tends to mute our senses.

Outside
It is well documented that getting outside is key to sharpening our senses and mental wellbeing, Indeed it is now recognised to design a green healthy building on biophilic principles, a powerful first step is for the design team to go for a walk in a forest. Unfortunately for most working on construction projects the ability to get outside is very limited. 

Mindfulness
That, at each of these workshops, 25+ construction operatives, managers and directors were keen to learn and to practice their first mindfulness session was, I believe, indicative of the need for relief from stress through techniques such as mindfulness.

Modern Slavery
Whilst we continue to have elements of modern slavery in our industry we simply cannot call our sector sustainable. Before we award any project a sustainability standard or recognition award there needs to be a 100% guarantee that there are no incidents of modern slavery in the project supply chains.

Just Construction
Within the sessions, I included an overview of the ILFI Just programme, as a wonderful example of how we could bring construction social and human justice into sustainability certifications.

Fairness Inclusion and Respect
It is sad we need a FIR programme in today’s construction sector, yet a lack of Fairness, Inclusion and Respect lies at the root of our worsening wellbeing, modern slavery, stress and mental health situation.

Support
If you would like to discuss support for any or all of the issues covered above please do get in touch. Within the UK we may also be able to find funding for in-house workshops

References

Wilmott Dixon All Safe Minds Poster 

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