The construction sector is proving to be one of the worst for cases of poor health, safety and well being. Several reasons have been suggested why the industry has particularly poor health, safety and well being figures, including the large numbers of transitory workers.
There is a suspicion that some smaller companies are less committed to health and safety principles. Further improvements, it is suggested, must come from really understanding how people feel about the work and jobs — a potentially tough nut to crack in a traditionally macho culture.
Evidence has shown that the increasing presence of women in the North Sea oil and gas industry over the past two decades quickly marginalised cavalier attitudes to safety. So would more women in the sector change attitudes to health?
In the highly fragmented construction sector, where driving costs down is a constant priority, such changes could be more difficult. There are also less obvious factors. The HSE figures show that nearly 20% of reported work-related illnesses result from stress due to long hours, depression often caused or intensified by long periods of separation from family members, plus general feelings of anxiety linked to job security fears. It is thought that suicide figures in the sector could be as much as 10 times higher than average sector work fatality figures.
Mental ill health is becoming a growing problem throughout the working world. The union Unite is encouraging its members to become mental first aiders and ensure that all workers have someone they can talk to about personal issues. Companies need to take the same route in providing a sympathetic listening ear and signposting the way to professional support. Similarly, they should look at paving the way for a supported return to work where time off has been necessary, such as with flexible or part-time working.
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