Construction worker looking stressed Viewpoint

STRESS AND ITS IMPACT ON CONSTRUCTION

Posted by Fabrick on 01 April 2021

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone! There’s not a person out there who hasn’t been under some kind of stress during the past year, due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. None more so than those working in the construction industry, which, over the past decade has recorded 2,526 suicides; shockingly 99.4% of this figure were men. This National Stress Awareness month we’re asking: what does stress look like, what can we do to raise awareness of it, and why is the construction industry so disproportionally affected?

What characterises stress?

Stress feels like emotional and physical tension, as a result from a demand placed upon you, or a challenge you feel unable to solve. In small doses it’s actually a good emotion that helps to motivate our problem-solving skills and helps us to avoid danger. However, prolonged stress in situations that are unavoidable can damage our mental and physical health to a severe degree, making it crucial to be able to spot the signs of stress in the workplace before it escalates into something more serious.

Stress presents in a number of subtle ways, which may appear innocuous or normal in isolated incidents, but accumulatively can indicate something more serious. According to the construction training experts the CITB, these are some of the symptoms you should look for:

  • Negative moods that are out of character
  • Forgetfulness
  • Indecisiveness
  • Withdrawal from friends and colleagues
  • Irritability, angry or emotional outbursts and loss of sense of humour
  • Headaches, nausea, aches and pains
  • Sleeplessness, fatigue and low energy
  • Drink or drugs problem
  • More accidents at work
  • Drop in performance
  • Excessive sick leave or coming to work when ill

Is working in construction really that stressful?

For those working on sites, working away from family for weeks at a time, working outside the 9 to 5 routine, together with a lack of job continuity can all contribute to that gnawing feeling of instability that other sectors appear to be immune from. When construction contracts have an expiration date, it’s not always a given that there will be a new contract to take its place. And as the statistics show, this and other concealed worries often leads to workers not knowing which way to turn in a crisis.

For working parents, site-based jobs can also present some additional challenges that perhaps office-based roles do not. A construction site is vastly different to an office in terms of operation and work carried out. We often think of family friendly work places as office based, without a thought of what a 3.15pm school pick up might look like for the steel frame installer working on a tall building, or a Site Manager who’s waiting for a delivery on-site. Inflexibility in the workplace carries additional stress, of being torn between needing to carry out caring duties while also needing to be reliable to keep a job.

What is being done to provide support?

Implementing mental health and wellbeing first aiders as part of the Health and Safety at Work Act is one initiative used by construction companies to provide an avenue of support. Just having a peer to talk to can reduce stress, allay fears and open up discussion to resolve issues; as they say a problem shared is a problem halved! The main problem however is encouraging men to open up in a male dominated work sphere; where the antiquated ‘tough guy’ culture places added stress on men to be strong and masculine. But it’s 2021 and men should be able to express their feelings without it being perceived as a sign of weakness.

What can we do to raise awareness / change company cultures?

While the construction site might seem like the last place construction workers would want to open up about their problems, it’s important to have someone who they can approach when things feel as if they are getting too much. Our client, HAKI, trained some of their Training Centre employees to become Mental Health First Aiders. They are now trained to recognise the signs of stress and decline of mental health and provide their colleagues with a point of contact when things are going wrong.

Other ways to provide support that works well with the Mental Health First Aider system, could include:

  • Posters in and around sites with the contact details of the on-site Mental Health First Aider.
  • Mental Health First Aiders to schedule a 1:1 appointment with workers so they can receive a mental health check to see how work and home life is going. We all know how easy it is to put things off, or think that things aren’t that bad! If someone who isn’t part of your usual network asks the right questions about stress levels, it’s much easier to naturally talk about how you feel.
  • Discuss more flexible working hours for parents to enable both parenting and working duties to be carried out.

We’re strong advocates of organisations and charities such as Mates in Mind, Lighthouse Club and Building Mental Health, who recognise the unique challenges presented by the construction industry and are working to create a wider awareness that it’s ok to take action and talk.

If you’re affected by stress, or know someone who is, Stress.org.uk has a wealth of information and strategies you can try to reduce your stress levels. We particularly like the 30-day challenge – “which encourages you to pick one action each for your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing to carry out every day.”

It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits, we’re up for the challenge, are you?

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