construction workers support each other

British Safety Council: Mental Health Is ‘Issue of our Time’

Oct. 26, 2017
While there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before, 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year in the UK, and at a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions.

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74 billion and £99 billion. A recently analysis shows that around 15 percent of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.

Thriving at Work, a review into workplace mental health that was released Oct. 26 and commissioned by British Prime Minister Theresa May in January, was conducted by Paul Farmer and Dennis Stevenson. It offers guidance on what employers can do to better support all employees – including those with mental health problems – to remain in and thrive through work.

It includes a detailed analysis that explores the significant cost of poor mental health to UK businesses and the economy as a whole and quantifies how investing in supporting mental health at work is good for business and productivity. The most important recommendation is that all employers, regardless of size or industry, should adopt six “mental health core standards” that that would act as cornerstones of good mental health practice and culture. These standards include:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees;
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and well-being.

It also details how large employers and the public sector can develop these standards further through a set of mental health enhanced standards. The review makes a series of recommendations to government and other bodies.

The British Safety Council Responds

"It is our vision that no-one should be injured or made ill at work,” said Louise Ward, communications and policy director for the British Safety Council. “Great progress has been made on addressing safety issues and reducing accidents and injuries in the workplace, but there is still significant work to be done on wellbeing and health, particularly mental health.”

Calling mental health “the issue of our time,” Ward noted: “There is still much to be done in dispelling the stigma that surrounds the subject and facilitating access to help and support. Defining and contextualizing mental well-being, as distinct from mental ill health, and recognition of the multitude of contributory factors is particularly helpful, as it establishes the scope for the recommendations, and confirms that good work is a positive contributor to mental well-being.”

There has been increasing publicity and awareness of the human impact of mental ill health in the UK, but the statistics included in the report from the Deloitte review clarify the extent of the problem and demonstrate a return on investment of programs designed to promote mental well-being.

“We believe that employers will welcome the proposed core standards, and supporting guidance, as this will help to establish a benchmark for good practice,” Ward added. “However, we are concerned about the ability of businesses, particularly SMEs, to resource the interventions required to achieve this benchmark. We also welcome suggestions that the Government should consider financial incentives to support this work.”

Employers will require information and advice to support development of mental wellbeing programs and it will be important to provide a mechanism to facilitate access to tools and providers, said Ward. A proposed single online portal would be “welcomed,” she said, but would need to be properly resourced to ensure that it delivers effectively against expectations.

The British Safety Council believes the recommendations set out in the report will place significant demands on the already stretched National Health Service and public sector, and that additional resources will be required to meet demand. Ironically, Ward said, “care will be required to mitigate the impact that workload increases could have on the mental well-being of staff employed in these areas.”

Mental Health Training

The Stevenson-Farmer review recommends that: “… professional bodies with responsibility for training or accrediting professional qualifications should include workplace mental health in their training programmes and assessments.”

The British Safety Council recently unveiled its mental health training portfolio to help businesses and their employees start conversations about mental health issues and build a positive mental health culture. Its “Start the Conversation” course is designed for organizations of all sizes.

In January 2017, the British Safety Council helped to launch the Mates in Mind program, which provides information, support and training on mental health for the construction industry.

“Mates in Mind welcomes the recommendations set out in the Stephenson-Farmer report. With the direct support and financial investment from the UK construction industry and the British Safety Council, it has already started to make inroads into tackling the issues that the report so starkly highlights,” said Steve Hails of Tideway and chair of Mates in Mind.

As an example of the issue, Hails said that the sad reality is that suicide rates in construction are more than 3.5 times the national average. “This industry, which contributes 6 percent to the nation’s GDP, is reliant on people who are at most significant risk – and we need to take even greater care of them,” he said.

“The UK construction industry has embraced Mates in Mind and its roll out across the sector is gathering momentum. Mates in Mind recognizes “that businesses need to be enabled to do more, not simply being given more to do,” said Hails.

Since its launch in January 2017, Mates in Mind has been working with the UK construction industry to make progress on the issues the report identifies by raising awareness, addressing the stigma of poor mental health and improving positive mental well-being.

Specifically, it uses a framework consisting of four key elements, which together provide a joined-up approach that can be tailored to a company’s specific needs. These are:

  1. Guidance and support: offering guidance on specific employee issues to creating stress management policies through to connecting the workforce to appropriate support at the right time – Mates in Mind supports companies create and implement a mental health at work plan.
  2. Awareness and education: helping to develop mental health awareness throughout the industry – from encouraging open conversation throughout the workforce to helping leaders and managers understand their roles in creating mentally healthy work environments.
  3. Communication: helping to ensure the organization’s commitment to positive mental health and well-being remains visible and relevant. From targeted communication materials to supporting organisations in monitoring employee mental health and well-being.
  4. Research and development: developing industry leading research to understand the nature and impact of mental health, and to ensure development of effective, robust and sustainable solutions.

​“The interaction between work and mental health is complex and sensitive, and is a challenge to employers,” said Mates in Mind Executive Director Joscelyne Shaw. “What the evidence shows is that stigma and associated discrimination remain significant barriers to addressing the issue. We are helping construction companies to take steps to address both the human cost to construction workers and the financial cost to their businesses. We’re very fortunate that the construction industry has taken a stand to ensure mental health is included within the overall thealth agenda.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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