Engineering a safer environment for your team
Last month, our SHEQ manager, Darrell Johnson, spoke to Electrical Engineering magazine, to explain why, when it comes to building a cohesive and resilient workforce, it’s vital that firms go beyond physical health and encompass psychological fitness too. In case you missed it, you can catch up here.
For years, the media has reported the sad truth that suicide is killing more construction workers than falls on construction sites. And with 10 September marking World Suicide Prevention Day, now – more than ever – is the time to look after all elements of health and wellbeing.
The construction industry is vital to the UK economy. Employing almost 2.5 million people and contributing, on average, £113bn to the nation’s economy, protection of employees’ physical health is very much on everyone’s radar – but of real and growing concern is the attention to mental health.
Of course, there’s little point in trying to foster a culture around any type of health and safety if your business proposition doesn’t complement it. On-site safety and employee wellbeing should be a regular agenda item at the monthly board meeting, and one which sits on a par with the balance sheet and sales pipeline.
Only once you have the buy-in of the leadership team, can you really begin to make a difference.
Workplace wellbeing and mental health
Recent ONS statistics found that suicide rates for a male in the construction industry was 3.7% above the national average. A shocking statistic, but something we can collectively work towards addressing.
By its very nature, the construction sector is predominantly (80%) male, and men are far more likely to take their own lives. With significant periods of time spent away from home, friends and family, loneliness can soon set in – compounded by job insecurity and intense pressure.
However, there is hope. By speaking openly about mental health in a shared forum, organisations can slowly break down any stigma that still surrounds the notion of discussing thoughts and feelings out loud.
Adequate policy and procedures
It’s important to compile a bespoke policy and procedure which considers the nuances of your company. During the process, take the time to speak to colleagues and establish what genuinely matters to them – and be open to the differences between those working in the office and those who might spend most of their time on the road.
When it comes to the buy-in of any new approach or incentive, it’s important that every employee feels they have had an input into the decision-making.
Of course, while it is a legal requirement to consult with your team on health and safety, it shouldn’t just be about ‘ticking a box’. Regular, honest conversations can be a useful tool to make your workplace a safer and more productive place, and teammates will respect you for asking for their opinion – and acting on it.
It’s important to review the documentation regularly too, as well as update it in line with legislative changes, practical matters, or a shift in mindset. Above all, make sure the team is briefed and there are copies in places they will be seen – to ensure they don’t sit on a shelf, gathering dust.
Conducting risk assessments and method statements
When it comes to the physical safety of staff, it’s important that risk assessments and method statements don’t run the risk of becoming just another ‘tick-box exercise’. As with your health and safety policy, these documents should be created in collaboration with the workers who physically carry out the job on a day-to-day basis – as they are the ones who know what might go wrong.
Make sure all equipment is regularly serviced and any necessary repairs are carried out promptly. It’s also good practice to create a maintenance timetable to safeguard that nothing gets forgotten. So, diarise regular checks to identify areas which might need attention – before they become a real problem.
Although it might sound obvious, one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of an accident is to keep things tidy. Clearing away tools and equipment – and making sure there are no unnecessary items lying around – will reduce the risk of trips and falls, as well as make for a more pleasant working environment.
Appropriate skills and on-going training
Developing a skills matrix according to job type is an excellent starting point when it comes to recognising the type of training each member of the team needs – as well as any minimum requirements during recruitment.
There should be ample opportunity to requalify and upskill as time progresses too, with close monitoring of any accreditation expiry dates to ensure refresher courses are organised and attended without disruption to work in progress.
By empowering employees to bolster their own skillset, and stay abreast of any industry changes, companies will automatically instil a sense of loyalty and pride in individuals.
Why it’s good to talk
When we think of safety training, we must consider mental health as well.
Hosting regular ‘toolbox talks’ – which include discussions around emotional wellbeing – will gradually help to break the stigma that can sometimes be associated with talking about your feelings.
Those really looking to go the extra mile can look to implement a separate mental health policy, undergo an organisational wellbeing assessment or investigate the potential of formal training for mental health first aiders.
Finally, it’s incredibly important to give back. Give someone a proverbial pat on the back for a job well done, encourage more experienced team members to view themselves as a mentor for others, or invest in internal communications to share inter-company news.