‘Spiraling consequences’: New initiative aims to lower suicide rate among construction workers

COVENTRY, England — Mental health issues have been plaguing the construction industry for years. Between 2011-2019, the construction sector suffered the grim distinction of having the highest suicide rate, with a harrowing 20% of all occupational suicides (ONS). Now, researchers from the University of Warwick in England are looking to lend a helping hand and lower those figures. The university has collaborated with the National Grid in an innovative project by introducing on-site Health Hubs for workers.

Situated in Sellindge, Kent, a prototype Health Hub was established at a construction site. Designed to cater to workers during their extended shifts, this hub boasted several amenities to boost worker wellness. These perks included a gym, spaces designed for socializing, one-on-one wellbeing coaching, events centered around health awareness, and a canteen that offered complimentary nutritious meals.

Construction workers face a multitude of struggles

While developing the Health Hub, researchers from the University of Warwick also embarked on a comprehensive study to understand the challenges confronting industry workers. Their findings painted a troubling picture of the negative ramifications of prolonged work hours on mental, physical health, and personal relationships. Workers also found themselves resisting help due to the persisting stigma about mental health in the sector.

“It was eye opening to learn about the extent of the challenges faced by workers in the construction industry and the spiraling consequences this can have on their livelihood and wellbeing,” says Sophie Tyerman, a research assistant at Warwick Medical School, in a statement.

Initial results from this pilot project are promising. Workers who frequently utilized the hub exhibited markedly reduced anxiety levels. Additionally, many workers expressed feelings of greater appreciation from their employers and voiced that the hub offered them a valuable opportunity to prioritize their well-being and mental health, all without compromising precious family time. A common sentiment was that these facilities “made life easier.”

“It was a privilege to work with National Grid on this important project. There is a large research gap on what helps to improve the mental wellbeing of construction workers,” says Carla Toro, associate professor at the Warwick Medical School. “Our research findings from the National Grid and Warwick collaboration provide the first insights to what we hope will become a minimum standard to support and improve the wellbeing of construction workers at all construction sites.”

Researchers are hoping there are broader implications for the Health Hub initiative.

“As a business, we pride ourselves on the health and wellbeing programs we provide for our people,” says Emma Ford, construction director for the IFA project and Health Hub business sponsor at National Grid. “We will continue to develop this vital research, sharing best practices across our business and industry through the Health Hub Consortium, with the core aim of creating a minimum wellbeing standard for all construction.”