Words from the IACDS President: VERY UPBEAT

Published 22/11, 2018 at 15:19

Everyone knows I am very upbeat when it comes to our industry. I absolutely love it.

I think I’ve mentioned in this column previously that I’ve told the national media in the UK that concrete drilling and sawing is sexy, much to their surprise. It’s definitely not fake news! However, there’s an issue in construction across the world that none of us can shy away from, one that we must talk about more, and one that we have to address. I’m talking about mental health and wellbeing, and how our sector needs to tackle the matter head on for the good of our workforce, their families and our businesses.

In the UK, male site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK man, which is extremely troubling for someone who runs a business in this sector. Our Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, of the 13,232 in work suicides recorded, those within the skilled construction and building trades made up 13.2%. I can’t tell you how upset that stat makes me feel and, as an industry, we can’t let this go on.

The figures I’ve quoted are from the UK, but this is an issue that the industry around the world is having to get to grips with. As societies, we have come a long way, and the stigma of talking about our mental health is starting to be eroded. Campaigns such as ‘World Mental Health Day’ are a great way of removing the taboo of talking about a topic that would have gone unspoken only a few years ago. And there is definitely an acknowledgement now in construction that our sector, and our people, are suffering the affects more than others.

Why? I’ve read that it is because of relative low pay in our sector, because there is a constant battle to meet dead- lines, be within budget, and that while we’ve all spent years protecting our people physically with updated health and safety measures, we haven’t kept up in terms of mental wellbeing. Is it the type of people we attract to enter our industry, or the notion that construction is a ‘macho’ industry, and that the guys onsite would never want to show weakness – either physically or mentally – so they store away their feelings until it’s too late?

It’s probably a mixture of reasons and, of course, everyone who suffers with a mental health issue doesn’t end up taking their own life; that is the extreme end of it. People who are suffering could end up leaving the sector or have time off absent. As well as the human side to it, it is an economic issue too as it costs the industry financially if workers are suffering onsite or are unable to work.

For me, however, this is way beyond the bottom line. I want a happy, open workforce, who knows they can be upfront and honest if they are suffering in any way. I need them to know that there is a door open and that we will take their issue seriously, and deal with it appropriately. We all accept that deadlines, budgets, demanding work, being away from home and sometimes unsociable hours are a part of what we do, and are not something we can remove from the industry. But we can help our people to manage those aspects of the job and spot the signs when they are not.

At the extreme end, if you do see signs that someone could be at risk of suicide you, as a business owner or manager, need to know how you should handle that and what steps you should take to support that person. I have been reading up a lot on the topic but I am certainly not an expert in it. I’m just determined to find out more to make sure I am as aware as possible of any warning signs and what to do.

The next IACDS Convention is from 11 to 14 April next year, and takes place in Munich during the bauma show (from 8 to 14 April, 2019) and this is a topic that I will be pushing to be on the agenda. As an industry, we have shown time and again that when we tackle an issue head on we can bring about positive changes, and that is something I sincerely want us to do when it comes to mental health.

So please get the convention date in your diary and contact me if you have any thoughts or suggestions. Also, don’t forget to get your entries in for the ‘Diamond Awards’ to make sure you get your company’s skills, knowledge and expertise recognised all over the world. More information is available at http://www. iacds.org/diamondaward/diamond- award-2019

Julie White, President of IACDS

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