Mental health: the forgotten health and safety issue
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Three construction industry associations are joining forces with the Samaritans in a bid to address what they describe as the growing problem of mental health and workplace stress in the building engineering services industry.

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) and the CIBSE Patrons are holding a joint conference on the issue in London next month.

CIBSE Patrons are the corporate supporters of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin, who will chair the event, said that 80% of engineering services firms believe that workplace mental health will have a serious impact on their businesses over the next five to 10 years. This statistic emerged from an occupational health survey carried out by the BESA and the ECA, which also found that 31% of companies considered on-site mental health issues ‘hard to manage’.

“Mental health is the forgotten health and safety issue,” said Mr McLaughlin. “As an industry, we have made impressive progress on workplace safety in the past 20 years, but on health – and mental health in particular – we still have a long way to go.”

Samaritans regional partnerships officer Will Skinner said that the vast majority of calls received by the charity are from people who are not suicidal but just desperately need to talk to someone about how they feel and why they are struggling to cope.

Callers to the Samaritans range from individual tradespeople to senior managers feeling the isolation of leadership, he said. Many people find it difficult to cope with stress created by tight deadlines and cash flow issues.

CIBSE Patrons chairman David Fitzpatrick said that the impact of stress was apparent throughout the supply chain. “For an industry that already has serious recruitment issues, tackling mental health has to be a priority,” he said. “In order to make construction-related professions more attractive to a wider section of the population – particularly women, ethnic minorities and school leavers – we need to make sure we cover all aspects of worker wellbeing.”

ECA director of business Paul Reeve said “With workplace mental health now an established issue, the sector needs to work together to help contractors manage these issues. Unlike ensuring protection against physical health hazards, employees who face mental health challenges may be the least able to decide or follow the right course of preventative action, presenting additional challenges to firms.”

The mental health seminar takes place at St Matthew’s Conference Centre, 20 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2BU on Thursday 21st July from at 5pm. Attendance is free to members of BESA, ECA and CIBSE Patrons. There’s a link here to book.