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Thu January 23 2020

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Construction industry leaders push mental health up the agenda

27 Jan 17 The second annual Health in Construction summit took place with some 300 industry bosses and occupational health & safety professionals in attendance.

The Health in Construction Leadership Group 2017 participants
The Health in Construction Leadership Group 2017 participants

The event, under the auspices of the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG), aims to raise awareness of occupational health issues in the industry. This time, mental health was on the agenda.

While site safety has improved in leaps and bounds over the past 30 years, there has been no such significant progress in health. More than 100 times more workers die from occupational disease than from accidents.

The first summit, held in January 2016, attracted more than 150 attendees, who gathered to discuss the importance of raising awareness of health issues in the construction industry and focussed initially on respiratory disease.

Since then, the HCLG has sought to promote best practice and raise standards in the way health risks are managed on construction sites, with campaigns such as Breathe Freely and No Time to Lose.

The 2017 summit considered the growing issue of mental health within the industry, and gave delegates ideas to apply at their companies.

The summit included the launch of the Mates in Mind programme, set up with the support of the British Safety Council. Mates in Mind aims to raise awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction sector by opening discussion, sharing information and offering employees support. With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue at some point in their life, the Centre for Mental Health estimates that 91 million working days are lost each year across the UK, costing employers nearly £26bn a year.

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Along with the launch of Mates in Mind, workshops were organised for delegates to build on the lessons learnt in 2016 on respiratory diseases, designing out health issues from construction and how best to address mental health issues in the workplace.

Speakers at the event included Health & Safety Executive chair Martin Temple, B&CE chief executive Patrick Heath-Lay, and Lee Rowland, a carpenter who for years endured mental health issues.

HCLG chair Clive Johnson, head of health & safety at Land Securities, said: “With suicide causing 10 times more deaths than accidents on sites, it is imperative that the industry is truly aware of the deeply impactful consequences of unaddressed mental health issues.

“In raising this issue today with over 300 industry leaders, we have set the foundations to addressing mental health openly, confidently and honestly within the construction industry; not just by ‘starting the conversation’ but by providing delegates with the skills and knowledge to go back into their workplace and address this issue head on.”

Health minister Nicola Blackwood offered moral support to the initiative. “Everyone needs support and care from those around them, and it is great to see such attention given to mental health within the construction industry,” she said. “We spend so much of our time at work so I welcome the work that Mates in Mind is doing to raise awareness and understanding, particularly as suicide is a major cause of death."

The summit was supported by various industry bodies, including Build UK, the Construction Industry Training Board, the Health & Safety Executive, the International Institute of Risk & Safety Management, the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health, the British Occupational Hygiene Society and the British Safety Council.

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