With long hours, demanding workloads and projects that are often short-term and far from home, it’s no surprise that construction is a high-risk industry for workplace stress. There is a difference between stress and pressure, and how we deal with preventing work related stress in construction needs to be hi-lighted and addressed. Mental ill-health is being under reported by employees in construction due to a perceived stigma attached to the issue. Many, although not all, of those working in construction are older men who may not feel able to open up about issues they may be having.

Everybody needs a certain amount of pressure for motivation and to perform at their best. It’s when there is too much pressure without recovery time that people start to experience stress. Work related stress is not an illness, but it can lead to increased problems with ill health, if it is prolonged or particularly intense. Examples are heart disease, raised blood pressure, regular headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal disturbances and various minor illnesses. Psychological effects can be anxiety and depression.

A study conducted by the Health and Safety Laboratory found that around 10% of their sample of construction industry workers found their job very or extremely stressful. The ‘top five’ most stressful aspects of work for respondents were:

  1. Having too much work to do in the time available
  2. Travelling or commuting
  3. Being responsible for the safety of others at work
  4. Working long hours
  5. Having a dangerous job

Recognising signs

Preventing work related stress in construction is imperative as stress in the workplace can affect every aspect of an organisation, from absenteeism rates to interpersonal relationships. It’s vital to recognise the signs of stress as early as possible so that actions can be taken before serious stress-related illness occur. The challenge that we face when spotting stress is that everyone experiences it in different ways, which contributes to stress manifesting in very different ways.

There are many factors at work that can indicate a potential problem. For an individual in the workplace, there will be changes; these changes can be physical, emotional, behavioural, or a combination of all three. Changes can include:

  • Extroverts becoming withdrawn
  • Becoming more accident prone
  • Becoming short-tempered
  • A dramatic change in weight

Of course, we all experience ‘bad days’, so we are really talking about situations where people display these negative changes for a period of time (e.g. 5 days in a row). Looking at an organisation as a whole, there are also signs that a workforce are stressed. This can manifest itself as:

  • High staff turnover
  • Increased absenteeism and sickness levels
  • Long-hours work culture
  • Employees not taking their full holiday entitlement
  • Low productivity and efficiency
  • Providing Support

Although recognising the signs is important, it is only the first step in combating the issues faced. Organisations need to send a clear signal to staff that their mental health matters and being open about it will lead to support, not discrimination. A simple way to communicate this is to explain that mental health will be treated in the same way as physical health. Organisations can back this commitment up with a clear mental health strategy and specific policies to ensure employees experiencing mental health problems get the support they need straight away.

Individual relationships between managers and employees are the key to getting this right. If people are able to receive support quickly, this can often help steer them away from developing a more serious problem. For this reason, it’s vital that organisations have clear, well publicised channels in place for employees to raise concerns and take positive action promptly when staff seek help.

HSE has launched a ‘Talking Toolkit’, which focuses on work-related stress in construction, put together with consultation from the construction industry.

The toolkit focuses on six conversation topics:

  • Demands
  • Control
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role

The toolkit is aimed at businesses with a regular workforce (employed and contracted) who want to start looking at this issue. It will also help site managers wanting to identify project-specific issues.

The ‘Preventing work-related stress’ talking toolkit is available and can be downloaded here.
https://www.hse.gov.uk/STRESS/assets/docs/stress-talking-toolkit.pdf 

For further assistance and advice on preventing work related stress in construction, please contact us here.