Supporting the mental health of self-employed construction workers

A study conducted by Mates in Mind and the Institute for Employment Studies

Bevan S, Meek S, Lucy D |   | Institute for Employment Studies | Jun 2022

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The health, safety and wellbeing of construction workers has been a major focus of government and employer attention in recent years because of its safety-critical nature. A sign of the success of this focus is that fatal incidents in the sector are now at their lowest level. However, data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that workers in the UK construction sector still experience higher rates of work-related ill-health and non-fatal injuries than in most other sectors of industry. One area which has only recently received dedicated attention is the mental health of workers in construction.

Recent data suggests that 97 per cent of construction workers felt stressed at least once in the last year and that 26 per cent had considered taking their own lives in 2019. Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows that more than 1,400 construction workers took their own lives between 2011 and 2015 but the number could be even higher. The rate of suicide in construction is more than three times the national average for men, with more than two construction workers taking their own life every working day. For men working in skilled trades, the highest risk was amongst those in building finishing trades who had more than double the suicide risk of the male national average.

The aim of this project has been to provide evidence-based recommendations for practical tools which can be used to support self-employed construction workers who need mental health support. There have been four stages to the project:

■   A rapid evidence review. A desk-based exercise looking at recent literature on the mental health needs of the self-employed, examples of successful interventions to engage self-employed people in construction and other sectors, and data to inform the development of a short online questionnaire.

■   Survey of self-employed construction workers. The design of an accessible questionnaire which identifies levels of mental health using a validated scale (eg GAD7). It aimed to collect data on sources of stress and anxiety, identify the sources of support and advice already used by these workers and capture data on their preferences for information support, education, and other resources (and their likelihood of using them).

■   Qualitative interviews. A small number of follow-up interviews with survey respondents to explore the drivers of mental health, sources of work pressure, distress and anxiety, their coping mechanisms and factors which trigger help-seeking behaviour. We also explored the best ways to provide support for those experiencing mental health problems.

■   Analysis and reporting. Presentation of the survey and interview findings in a written report, a webinar and a conference presentation to summarise the nature of the mental health problems faced by self-employed construction workers.

Survey fndings indicated there were five areas which respondents reported were contributing relatively frequently to feelings of stress, anxiety or low mood. These were:

  1. I worry that my workload is too high (42% experiencing this frequently);
  2. I feel low because of my business partners/colleagues (37%);
  3. I feel low because of pressure at work (35%);
  4. I feel anxious about family or relationship problems (33%); and
  5. I feel stressed by financial problems or debt (32%).

This report brings together the results of this project and sets out some practical recommendations for action for a number of stakeholders.