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Embedding health as well as safety - part one

07/10/2019 - 11:23AM

Workers in construction are 3.7 times more likely to commit suicide than workers in other professions yet the health of the workforce is rarely tackled effectively at organisational level compared to safety. This is often due to lack of knowledge about how to do this. We are posting this article, from Clare Forshaw, in support of World Mental Health Day. Today in part one, she looks at the status of the ‘health’ in health and safety in construction and considers some of the key contributory factors in construction contributing to diminished mental health amongst its work force.  

Work and health are inextricably linked. Individuals bring their own health to work and their health is affected by their work and workplace, so they have both a positive and negative impact on each other. Most organisations are confident in understanding their roles as leaders in safety and have the right attitudes, behaviours and tools in place. However, they are often less confident in applying the same principles and tools for health especially as the scope of health is seen as very broad. Organisations are often less clear about what is expected of them. This means the topic can become a huge headache, often ending up in the ‘too difficult’ box.

Against that, there is a plethora of evidence proving the benefits of ‘good work’ for the individual, for business performance and wider society as well as the economy (Waddell & Burton 2006, Black 2008, Taylor 2017, Stevenson & Farmer 2017, DH&SC 2018). There are also emerging and growing implications for investing in the future health of our workforce especially with an increasingly aged workforce, a skills shortage and in attracting and retaining high calibre recruits.

Mental Health

In particular there is an increasing focus being placed on mental health in the workplace, from government, charities and leading industry and professional bodies. 1 in 6 people who work in construction have been diagnosed with a common mental health condition. Even more concerning is that workers in construction are 3.7 times more at risk of committing suicide compared to the national average in other professions, with the highest rate of suicide amongst low skilled construction workers. The Construction News Mind Matters Survey 2018 found that nearly a third of respondents had taken time off work due to mental health issues. Of these respondents, 63 per cent said they had hidden the real reason for their absence from their employer.

Fatigue

The effects of shift work and fatigue are also highly relevant to the construction industry. Both are recognised as having a potentially significant impact on the health and safety of the workforce. It comes as no surprise that the disrupted sleeping and eating patterns caused by shift work are likely to have a knock-on effect on a person’s health, however it is less well known that shift work is a category 2A carcinogen as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Therefore employers should be meeting their obligations to investigate the potential risk and prevent exposure where possible.

Fatigue can also lead to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, as work and health are inextricably linked. Individuals bring their own health to work and their health is affected by their work and workplace, so they have both a positive and negative impact on each other. Most organisations are confident in understanding their roles as leaders in safety and have the right attitudes, behaviours and tools in place. However, they are often less confident in applying the same principles and tools for health especially as the scope of health is seen as very broad. Organisations are often less clear about what is expected of them. This means the topic can become a huge headache, often ending up in the ‘too difficult’ box.

There are solutions to this.  Tomorrow: visit www.aps.org.uk/news_aps we provide ways of creating and embedding a 'health' as well as a safety culture. 

 

Source: APS

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