Mental health ‘should be written into contracts’

Details of contractors’ mental health provisions should be written into contracts to help tackle a “national emergency” within the sector, a parliamentary group has advised.

Highlighting what mental health support is available to staff working on jobs would entrench a greater focus on wellbeing and ensure it is “on par with health and safety compliance”, according to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Issues Affecting Men and Boys.

The incorporation of mental health sections in contracts was one of a number of recommendations made in the group’s paper, which said such an initiative could also be “rolled out into other high-risk occupations”, such as farming and seafaring.

The APPG used evidence gathered by organisations across the UK to compile the report, including construction mental health advocacy group Mates in Mind.

The charity’s managing director, Sarah Meek, told Construction News that including sections on mental health in procurement documents would further support mental health best practices.

She said: “It’s about asking: what are you going to do to look after your teams? And then pushing that down through the supply chain as well. So when awarding the contract, at every stage people should be asked proactively, what is their approach to mental health and how are they demonstrating it?”

Contractors could also put forward awareness-raising programmes, Meek suggested, adding that they could go further by providing training for line managers on how to approach mental health conversations with staff.

“Why don’t people seek help or speak out? It’s because they’re sometimes scared about what the reaction might be – that it will limit their career prospects, or that they may be seen differently,” she said.

“We’re great [at being] reactionary [as an industry], but we need something a lot more proactive and preventative. We all need to look out for each other and push that preventative [side and] not just wait for a crisis before services kick in.”

The APPG report also argued that the death by suicide of construction workers should be reported to the industry regulator.

The paper’s authors highlighted that instances of death by suicide are currently not reported to the Health and Safety Executive via RIDDOR, a law requiring employers to report a range of incidents. Currently, the regulations only require firms to report a death from a workplace accident.

“Clearly, it should do,” the report stressed.

It also recommended that the government should establish a selection of “specifically targeted policies and research” to reduce suicide in high-risk sectors, including construction, and that tackling stigma around men’s mental health should be shared by staff and employers.

The construction industry has long battled a mental health crisis and statistics have shown that the rate of suicides in the industry is on the rise. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2020, for every 100,000 construction workers, 30 died by suicide. This figure had risen by 5 percentage points over the previous five years.

Last year, a survey brought to light the fact that one in five self-employed workers and those who work in small firms live with “elevated levels of anxiety”. Work-related stress has been blamed for this, along with the pandemic’s impact on the construction supply chain.

The director of charitable services at construction industry charity the Lighthouse Club, Sarah Bolton, said: “No matter where you work, employers have a legal duty to identify risks and agree ways to prevent work-related stress and support good mental health.

“As well as a legal responsibility, we all have a collective moral responsibility to ensure that mental health in our industry is treated with the same importance and respect as physical safety.”

The Lighthouse construction industry helpline can be called for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 03456051956 in the UK and 1800 939 122 in the Republic of Ireland. Construction workers and their families and friends in the UK can also text HARDHAT to 85258 to access anonymous and confidential help immediately via text, and 50808 in the Republic of Ireland

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