The Construction Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

The Construction Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

15th August 2017

Recent reports suggest that the roofing industry here in the UK faces a crisis that has nothing to do with a shortage of skilled labour or materials.  This is a silent crisis that seems to be swept under the carpet but it affects dozens of roofing workers every year.  Figures released by the Office of National Statistics clearly demonstrate that the incidence of suicide among roofers, slaters and tilers is a massive 2.7 times higher than the national average!  In the five year period from 2011 to 2015, 1,419 people working in the construction industry committed suicide, compared with 217 fatal injuries (97 of which were caused by a fall from height) over the same period. 

Among men under the age of 50 who work in the construction/building industry, the risk of suicide is 1.6 times higher than the national average and for those who work in skilled building trades, such as plastering, painting and decorating, the risk is more than double.  Why workers in the construction industry are more likely to commit suicide than those working in other sectors is difficult to pin down, though some of the reasons can be statistically reasoned:

·         Construction workers tend to be young and mostly male, two of the main factors in suicide rates in this country.

·         Unskilled construction work is often relatively low paid, often with short-term contracts and the resulting lack of job security means that financial stress is often commonplace.

·         Work is often tough, unsupervised and with little in the way of structure or career progress.  Many contractors have to travel to find work, spending long periods alone and away from family and friends (who often provide a support network), leaving the workers feeling alone and often overwhelmed when facing difficult issues.

·         Despite progress in recent years, construction is a male-dominated industry with a macho culture.  This means that workers are less likely to talk about how they feel than women or those working in industries that are not traditionally male-dominated.

Organisations here in the UK are attempting to address the issues associated with mental health, a subject that is currently featuring heavily on the political and social agenda.  The message is that “talking is good” and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.  Organisations like the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) are actively raising awareness of this issue and the NFRC has pledged to support the Mates in Mind programme which was initiated by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) with the support of the British Safety Council (BSC).

Mates in Mind aims to encourages support to be offered upstream, educating construction workers to talk and look out for friends and colleagues to identify a potential crisis before it happens.  This is a national construction industry mental health awareness, education and suicide prevention programme that will improve mental health via education and training.  One in four people experience some sort of mental health issue at some point in their lifetime and it’s estimated that 91 million working days are lost each year which collectively costs employers around £26 billion.