Why it is important to increase awareness of mental health in the construction sector and how to incorporate it into the social value requirements of your projects.

Last month, Category Lead, Clare Chamberlain, discussed the importance of social value in your construction projects and gave top tips on how to ensure it’s not missed off the list.

Here, Jasmine Evans, Commercial Agreements Manager – Construction, as a mental health first aider, shows why it’s important to increase the awareness of mental health in the sector and how to incorporate it into the social value requirements of your construction projects.

The lay of the land

The construction industry is vital to the UK economy. According to government statistics, the country’s 1 million construction firms employ 2.4 million people and the sector contributed £117bn in 2018 to the nation’s economy.

In construction, physical health is often seen as the most important thing, with signs everywhere reminding people to wear safety equipment and hundreds of hours are devoted to safety training. But mental health can be affected just as much as physical health through heavy workloads, long working hours, high-risk physical tasks, and often a lack of routine, frequent travelling, being separated from family, and working in isolation. As construction workers are also contract-based, anxiety can be triggered by a lack of job security or steady income.


Did you know…?

  • Depression and anxiety within the construction industry has increased by 10% from 2016-2017, with a fifth of all cases of ill health in the sector stemming from mental health issues. Consequently, over 400,000 work days are lost each year. [HSE: Construction statistics in Great Britain, 2018]

And according to a new report from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)

  • 26% of construction industry professionals thought about taking their own lives in 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the industry – and 97% recorded being stressed at least once since
  • Over 30% of all construction sites have no hot water, and no toiletry facilities for workers. All these things have an impact on mental health and wellbeing.
  • In a survey of over 2,000 construction industry professionals, stress (97%) was the most common mental health issue felt over the past year.
  • Many experience mental health problems due to late payment of invoices, affecting payment of their supply chain – as a result 80% had experienced stress, 40% experienced anxiety and/or panic attacks, and 36% experienced depression. 
  • 56% of construction professionals work for organisations with no policies on mental health in the workplace. 

Building minds up

Fortunately, the industry itself is becoming more aware of these issues and the mental health culture within workplaces is slowly starting to see change.

There are now employee assistance programmes such as the ‘Construction Industry Helpline’ that can provide instant help on a variety of issues around wellbeing via their phone and new mobile app. 

Initiatives such as Mates in Mind, is a recently-launched leading UK charity that enables UK construction organisations, of any size, to improve their workforces’ mental health and has the backing of the British Safety Council, the Health in Construction Leadership Group, and the Samaritans. 

Employers are also now signing up to Building Mental Health Charters to demonstrate their commitment to promoting awareness and understanding of mental health as well as lowering stigma, and training up mental health first aiders to support their employees.

But there’s more support that public sector organisations can show, whilst also tackling wider issues that impact us all.


Using your procurement practices to support – social value tackling health inequalities

The Social Value Act came into force in January 2013, and requires public sector commissioners – including local authorities and health sector bodies – to consider economic, social and environmental wellbeing in procurement of services contracts.

The recent policy note highlights changes that mean, from January 2021, public sector buyers are required to think differently about how they can secure social value from the goods and services they buy for their local area and/or stakeholders. One of the ways you can do this is to consider incorporating health into the social value requirements of your new construction projects.

Creating social value has clear connections with efforts to reduce health inequalities through action on the social determinants of health – for example, by improving employment and housing. It creates a new opportunity and potential to use local and national commissioning to support improvements in the health and wellbeing of local people and in the longer term reduce the demand on health services and other services.

Public Health England (PHE) commissioned the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) to assess the potential of the Social Value Act to support action to reduce health inequalities and has produced guidance around this which seeks to encourage, support and improve implementation of the Social Value Act in relation to reducing health inequalities and provide examples of it’s application in practice.

To implement these social value aims within your tenders and working practices, some initial ideas could be: 

  • contractors to sign up to the Building Mental Health Charter
  • contractors to aim to have the recommended minimum Mental Health First Aiders trained based on number of employees
  • contractor’s management tier to have all undertaken a form of Mental Health awareness training in order to look after their staff appropriately
  • contractors to have a dedicated Mental Health support program in place for their organisation ie Employee Assistance Programme 
  • urging Contractors to have in place a diverse workforce for their projects 
  • enforcing compliance with payment terms for the whole supply chain
  • mandate a standard level of working facilities for contractor workers to improve their working conditions 

For further ideas on how to incorporate mental health considerations into your project you may want to consider the new Social Value Model which has suggestions on how to further include it in your tender and offers useful evaluation metrics. 


Next steps

For more advice and guidance on tackling social value in construction projects please fill in our short online form and one of our commercial experts will be in touch. 

You can also explore our full range of construction frameworks on our dedicated construction web page.

Further policy advice and guidance on social value can be found on GOV.UK