Mates in Mind is the way forward on mental health in construction

British Safety Council in partnership with Health in Construction Leadership Group launches the Mates in Mind programme to address mental health in the construction industry. The second CEO health summit of the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) on 28 January in London saw the launch of the Mates in Mind programme, which aims to to raise awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction industry.  It gives managers the tools, information and training to make construction a healthier workplace. It also helps them start conversations with staff about their mental wellbeing and address the stigma associated with mental health.

Supported by leading mental health charities, such as Mind, Samaritans and Mental Health First Aid England, and industry bodies, including BOHS, Build UK, CITB, HSE, IIRSM and IOSH, the event was attended by 300 construction leaders and key influencers in the industry. They gathered to review the industry’s progress in eradicating occupational lung diseases and the success of campaigns such as ‘Breathe Freely’ and ‘No Time to Lose’, as well as the growing importance of mental health issues in construction.

Launching the Mates in Mind programme, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “In the UK, for every one working day lost due to injury, five days are lost due to ill-health, with nearly half of them relating to mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. The total number of working days lost each year in the UK due to mental health issues is 91m, which equates to £1,035 per employee (according to the Centre for Mental Health).

“Approximately one-sixth of the 2.1m construction workers in the UK are likely to be suffering from a mental health issue at any one point in time; a figure based on research by ONS. It’s a shocking statistic. Even more shocking is the fact that in the construction sector, people are 10 times more likely to die by suicide than from on-site accidents. Considering these alarming statistics, I struggle to understand why there’s so little focus on reducing suicide, compared to reducing accidents.

“The vision of the British Safety Council is that “no-one should be injured or made ill at work”.  However, like the construction sector, historically, we’ve shouted safety and whispered health. The Health in Construction Leadership Group is determined to readdress this balance, and I’m proud to be the CEO of an organisation that isn’t just saying we agree, but is at the forefront of actually doing something about it.”

Unveiling the details of Mates in Mind, Steve Hails, Director of Health, Safety & Wellbeing at Tideway, an executive member of the Health in Construction Leadership Group and Chair of Mates in Mind, said: “The Mates in Mind programme is a single, consistent programme for the construction industry, designed in response to its expectations and requirements.  

“The programme, developed in close partnership with Mind, MHFA England and Samaritans, is raising awareness of the problem and providing support for those who need it. At the heart of it is a three-tier approach, starting with 45-minute general awareness training for operatives that will begin the conversation about mental health. Its third most advanced form is a two-day programme to train volunteer mental health champions who will support workers suffering from mental ill health. We are looking for 100% support from the industry for this initiative.”

Leading mental health charities and social community organisations who are partnering Mates in Mind have expressed their support for the programme.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We are pleased to be a partner of Mates in Mind. It’s great to see mental health being made a priority and to contribute to an industry-wide approach that addresses unique challenges of employers who have large numbers of people working across different sites, in different ways. We are very happy to be part of the solution, bringing our expertise to a wide range of employers wishing to improve mental wellbeing of their workforce.”

Ruth Sutherland, Samaritans CEO, commented: “Samaritans welcomes the launch of Mates in Mind, an industry and charity partnership set up to train people to provide support in the workplace, raise awareness of mental health issues, break down stigma and encourage people to seek appropriate help. Samaritans is delighted to be a partner and looks forward to furthering these important aims.”

Bernice Cole, HR Director of MHFA England, said: “In any workplace, the mental wellbeing of employees should be a priority. The construction sector faces inherent challenges when it comes to addressing mental health. Men are typically less likely to talk about their mental health and those who do face stigma and even discrimination.

“Better access to support is critical to improve outcomes for those living with a mental health issue. This is why we are partnering with Mates in Mind. This powerful industry initiative will give thousands of construction workers Mental Health First Aid skills which will enable them to spot the common signs of mental health issues and increase their knowledge so that they are able to help themselves and their colleagues."