In 2018 82,000 cases of ill-health were reported in the construction sector. 25% of those cases related to mental ill-health including stress, anxiety and depression. The current incidence rate of mental ill-health in the construction sector is 0.6, well below the national average. However, this could be due to mental ill-health being under reported by employees due to a perceived stigma attached to the issue. Many of those working in construction are older men who may not feel able to open up about issues they may be having.

However, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently published data showing the construction industry has the highest incidence of suicide by occupation.

There is no suggestion that the suicide rate is caused as a direct result of working in the construction sector. There are many other societal, socio-economic, and physiological reasons which may explain the higher rate.

Employers have duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to take reasonably practicable measures to control that risk.

Whatever the initial cause of mental ill-health employers have a duty of care to ensure the mental health of their employees especially once an issue is known. Steps must be taken to prevent the exacerbation or relapse of mental ill-health as a result of work, these could include:

  • Phased return to work
  • 1 on 1 support and counselling
  • Referral to an occupational health provider
  • Provision of talking therapies

As with any other workplace hazard, if employers fail to adequately protect their employees from work-related stress, the HSE could investigate and take appropriate enforcement action. Work-related stress is one of the HSE’s key strategic health priorities and in the future we expect to see prosecutions brought against organisations who fail to properly control the risk of stress-related ill health, which could result in significant fines imposed on offenders.

Within the construction sector, the duties to manage the risk of mental ill-health could extend not just to an employee’s direct employer but also to other duty holders under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 such as the Principal Contractor as part of the duty to plan, manage, monitor and co-ordinate health and safety in the construction phase of a project.