Health and Safety or Health and Sanity?

16 February 2017

Depressed man, head in hands

David Stapleton discusses mental health in the construction industry

Mental health in the construction industry is at a high. Suicide kills six times as many construction workers as falling from heights, a survey recently revealed. In the US, the construction industry has the second highest rate of suicide of any profession (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

An electrical contractor complaining about late payment and the difficulties that it created for his business and his family contacted me last week and he urged me to help. That was the same day that the train my wife was travelling on was delayed by a fatality. Yesterday the same thing happened again except this time there were two fatalities. This is a very real problem.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, with 76% of all suicides in 2014 being men (ONS, NISRA, GRO 2014). The workforce in the construction sector is predominantly male, and has a particular range of factors recognised as likely stressors – for example heavy workloads, long working hours, travel, family separation, fear of redundancy and job insecurity. Any combination of these factors, and others, can potentially lead to mental ill health. The relationship between debt and mental health is intertwined and clearly more complex research has shown that common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and their adverse consequences disproportionately affect those that are poorer and more disadvantaged.

Self-employed workers are burdened with debt four times greater than those in full- or part-time employment, a leading debt charity has warned. The self-employed are financially worse off every month, have higher mortgage debts and significantly higher levels of other borrowing such as credit card debt, according to the StepChange debt charity.

Delroy Corinaldi, external affairs director at StepChange, said: “The unsecured debt levels of the self-employed indicate that people are taking on significant debts in order to invest in their businesses. However, with lower income levels, servicing these debts is likely to become increasingly problematic and too often the debt burden can become too much to bear.”

Initiatives such as Mates in Mind are to be applauded. So are government steps to reduce the issue of late payment within the construction sector. Of course there are a range of issues that might be behind late payments – contractual ones, retentions etc. Or cash flow issues further up the supply chain. Whatever the cause, it is imperative that people and businesses realise that deciding to sit on that invoice for an extra few weeks could be enough to change lives forever.

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