We interviewed Mace Operations Director (Health, Safety and Wellbeing), Martin Coyd, about the mental health challenges facing the construction industry.
How did you get interested in the subject of mental health?
The suicide of Terry Newton, Rugby League warrior and legend, shocked my sport into action. I was asked to train for a mental health role with Harlequins RL Academy (where I was a volunteer) and had a ‘lightbulb moment’ when I realised there was complete silence on the matter of mental health in our industry.
Have any experiences shaped your views on the subject?
Every single day, invariably positive, sometimes confrontational, sometimes tough. My experience in the past seven years is that everyone has been impacted, everyone has a story. We are just beginning to tell them.
What kinds of mental health issues do people suffer from in the construction industry?
Many, complex and multiple. No two people are alike, we are simply unique. Our industry is tough in every way. Hard work, difficult working conditions, limited job security, harsh environment, (sometimes) low pay, long hours. It is a wonderful place too. We shape and enhance our communities.
Do you have any figures to back this up?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics from March 2017 were shocking. Our industry is the highest risk, 3.7 times higher than the UK average. 454 suicides in 2016, that’s two every working day. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) are telling us that 84 men a week are committing suicide, and men make up 81% of suicides of people of working age.
What mental health initiatives are you involved in at Mace?
We are part of the Building Mental Health Framework, which is a three tier system. This gives companies the freedom to operate in a way, within a budget and at a speed which suits them, whilst being part of a national framework where we can all pull together and make a real difference.
Is it difficult to get people talking about the subject? What are the barriers?
No. It’s easy. People just need permission in a ‘safe’ environment, one where they can be signposted to support and help. The barriers are fear, stigma and discrimination. People who think good thoughts, say good things and do good deeds can make this happen.
Is the work you are doing in this area having an impact?
I believe so. My experience is that people everywhere are waiting for opportunities to get involved, improve our culture, our workplaces, our environment and help our industry to be an even better place. We just need some easy pointers and permission to get going.
If a construction worker is suffering from poor mental health, what would you suggest they do?
Talk to someone, right now. The ‘offload’ is step one, expressing how you feel and getting a weight off your mind. It’s surprising how many people can be helped by just listening. After that there are multiple ways of learning, accessing help, contributing and making a difference to the lives of millions.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
We have a golden opportunity, perhaps just once in this generation, to all pull together, ask your mate how she or he is going and just showing that you care. I believe that by improving our understanding and skills in mental health, we will take a significant step forward in Safety Performance.