It is one of the great hidden secrets of the construction sector, an issue that many peopleinwhat is still a male-dominatedindustry are reluctant to acknowledge,letalone talk about and act upon.
But mental health problems are not unusual across the wider spectrum of society and it is only to be expected that these issues will be presentinwhat is anincreasingly complex, and therefore stressful, working environment.
Inthe electrical sector alone, a profession which becomes more technologically challenging with each passing year, the ElectricalIndustries Charity estimates that more than a quarter of a million people aresuffering from mental health concerns.
But, alarmingly, it also calculates that95% ofthemoften lie about how they are feeling, or don’t tell anyone that they are struggling. So, issues which can adversely affect both work and home life remain buried under a blanket ofsilence.
This does not surprise me.Inmy timeintheindustry, I have come to understand that the often-robust atmosphere of the workplace does not encourage confessional communication and that men – however sweeping this may sound – remain unconvinced about the virtue of talking about their personal problems.
This is also one of the reasons why socially responsible companies like ours are puttinginplace training, procedures and processes which will help identifyindividuals who are trying to cope with the burden of sensitive emotional issues and reach out a helping hand.
Inassociation with the Scottish Association for Mental Health, we haveinstituted awareness raising programmes for senior management and senior site personnel to helpthemidentify potential problems among the electricians, plumbers and joiners within our 65-strong workforce.
The training does not by any stretch of the imagination make us experts, but it does help make participants sensitive to the need to reduce stigma surrounding the subject and to deal with any potential for discrimination.
Stress is not the only signifier. Properly trained, team leaders can be on the lookout for other symptoms of anxiety, depression, alcohol problems and even deep-seated clinical issues such as bi-polar behaviour.
Identification and monitoring are only the first steps. The ability to recognise problems allowsthemto be referred to the correct authorities such as GP support, NHS facilities, telephone counselling and helplines.
But we also have to be aware that, sincesufferers may be shy or wary about opening up about mental health concerns, it is also a difficult conversation for the responsible personinthe office or on the site toinitiate.
That is why it is important to offer training primarily to people within the organisation who already have a strong rapport with the workforce under their care and who are confident enoughinthemselves to be able to broach what may at first seem to be unpalatable subjects.
Raising the issue must not be seen as any kind ofinsinuation and it will require a significant degree of sensitivity from an empathetic and communicative listener to elicit a positive response from the person being approached.
It is also important to emphasise across the company that an open-door policy means what it says and that employees should have no concerns about bringing personal issues to their line manager, senior management or even directors.
Toolbox Talks are a valuable vehicle for raising a particular subject directly with the workforce. These short presentations focus on single aspects of workplace health and safety, such as working at height, and there is no reason why mental health should not be an ideal candidate for discussion.
At M-Pact, weintend to continue to develop awareness raising through HR committee meetings,in-house training and perhaps, further down the line, morein-depth courses such as the EIC’s Mental Health First Aider Training.
It may seem to be something of a belt and braces approachina company which alreadytakes great prideinthe work it does with its employees to ensure their physical and mental wellbeing.
But the EIC figures show thatin2018 alone, more than400 peopleinthe electrical sector attempted to commit suicide. Some ofthemsucceeded. Preventing even one such situation makes any amount of effort on our part worthwhile.
Martin Robertson is Health and Safety Manager atM-Pact Group.