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New research addresses mental health crisis in the construction industry

Written by | 20 Jul 2023 | Mental Health

New research is tackling the mental health crisis in the construction industry – highlighting the benefits of an on-site Health Hub on worker wellbeing.

The construction industry has the highest number of deaths by suicide compared to other employment sectors, accounting for 20% of all suicides by occupation between 2011-2019 (ONS).

Now, in a joint collaboration between the University of Warwick and National Grid, researchers are attempting to address this problem.

A Health Hub was set up on a construction site in Sellindge, Kent which employees could use during their long working days. The Health Hub, a pilot for future projects which could be implemented across the UK, included a gym, social spaces, one-to-one wellbeing coaching, health awareness events and a canteen with free healthy meals.

Early findings suggest that workers who used the hub for a longer duration and indicated a greater use of facilities had significantly lower anxiety scores. Workers also reported: a greater sense of appreciation from their employer; more opportunities to make healthier lifestyle choices; improved morale and a greater awareness of avenues for mental health support. Several reported that the on-site facilities “made life easier” – supporting workers to better balance their work, health and wellbeing, without having to sacrifice time spent with their families.

Alongside the innovative Health Hub, researchers at the University of Warwick conducted an in-depth analysis of the challenges faced by workers in the industry. Participants described the vicious cycle of knock-on effects of long working hours on their physical and mental wellbeing and family life, as well as the stigma surrounding mental health.

Associate Professor Carla Toro, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said: “It was a privilege to work with National Grid on this important project. There is a large research gap on what helps to improve the mental wellbeing of construction workers. As a step beyond the traditional organisation-wide approach to wellbeing, National Grid have introduced an inclusive model (the Health Hub), that makes wellbeing support available for all construction workers from multiple organisations from all sizes, including MSMEs and sole-traders.

“Our research findings from the National Grid and Warwick collaboration provide the first insights to what we hope will become a minimum standard to support and improve the wellbeing of construction workers at all construction sites.”

Research Assistant Sophie Tyerman, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, added: “It was eye opening to learn about the extent of the challenges faced by workers in the construction industry and the spiralling consequences this can have on their livelihood and wellbeing. The Health Hub is a step in the right direction towards addressing these challenges, highlighting the potential impacts such facilities could have if rolled out more widely.

“What stood out from the participant interviews was the comradery and peer support workers provided each other, given they often see their colleagues more than their own families due to the nature of the work. The Health Hub offered workers the space to have such conversations, in a more suitable environment than on a construction site. I am motivated to continue learning how the industry can not only best support their workers with existing health and wellbeing concerns, but also take preventative action to significantly reduce the number of individuals who think taking their own life is their only option.”

Emma Ford, Construction Director for the IFA project and Health Hub business sponsor at National Grid said: “As a business, we pride ourselves on the health and wellbeing programmes we provide for our people. The Health Hub was designed to not only support the team on this job, but to engender a change of mindset for everyone involved and life beyond IFA. We will continue to develop this vital research, sharing best practice across our business and industry through the Health Hub Consortium, with the core aim of creating a minimum wellbeing standard for all construction.”

Find out more about the research here https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/mentalhealth/our-research/workplace/construction/

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