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Empowering the Construction Industry to take Action on Mental HealthJuly 2019

Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, discusses the latest employer guidance on taking action on mental health.

It is no secret that mental health is an issue in construction. Transient working patterns, long hours, working away from home and a macho, stiff upper lip culture can combine to create a challenging environment for employees – not least for men.

With nearly a third of construction workers taking time of due to mental ill health each year, every employer needs to act. Firms including Mace, Leandlease and Skanska are leading the way here. Constant across all these organisations is a recognition of the importance of mental health training in the workplace.

Since 2016 charity Business in the Community has called on employers to provide first aid training in mental health. In fact, over 15,000 organisations, including many in construction, have been implementing Mental Health Frist Aid (MHFA) England training since it first became available in 2009.

For those less familiar, MHFA is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid. Those trained have the skills and the confidence through knowledge to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support, be that self-help information, an Employee Assistance Programme or NHS services.

With the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently enhancing its guidance to clarify the need to consider mental health alongside physical health in the first aid needs assessment, employers across the country are now putting serious thought into how it fits in with their own approaches.

According to the HSE, employers should consider how to manage mental health in a way appropriate for their business, which it says could include appointing ‘mental health trained first aiders’, providing relevant information on mental health, and implementing employee support programmes.

Important points to note

There are two key things to note here. First is the implicit recognition that addressing workplace mental health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for some won’t be as effective for others and employers will always be the experts in what is needed for their individual organisations.

Secondly, it should be clear from this that MHFA England training is just one part of a wider approach to health and wellbeing. Often referred to as a ‘whole organisation’ approach, this wider strategy should include a preventative culture, combined with intervention approaches and clear pathways to further support.

As employers take stock of this enhanced guidance, the question that many are asking is, ‘Where do I start?’

Many employers tell us they want to get it right but are not sure where to begin. We know from 10 years of working with organisations that, with the right support and information, all employers can take active steps to promote the wellbeing of their people, of which MHFA programmes will only be one part.

This is why MHFA England last month launched new best-practice guidance for employers on how to implement Mental Health First Aiders as part of a ‘whole organisation’ approach. Developed in collaboration with leading employers, PwC, Royal Mail, Thames Water, and Three UK, the guidance brings together industry expertise alongside a decade of experience implementing our training in workplaces of all shapes and sizes.

It covers laying the groundwork for implementing an MHFA programme, through to evaluating other supports in place. It also provides information on creating a bespoke policy and role document for Mental Health First Aiders, advice on their recruitment and promotion, as well as supporting and developing individuals in their roles.

Publication of Enhanced Guidance

Alongside this, we have published enhanced guidance for employees on carrying out their role, including how best to engage with their employer.

With these guides, we want to support employers and employees to understand all the components of effectively implementing MHFA England training in the workplace, whilst allowing for flexibility in how this is carried out.

As well as taking action on the HSE’s enhanced guidance, we hope to help more employers understand how to practically implement the core standards for a mentally health workplace, as set out in the Government’s Thriving at Work review.

Having room to manoeuvre is crucial but anchoring our strategies to these clear and accessible criteria is equally important. And though it is just one part of putting these into practice, MHFA England training can directly support employers to implement two of these standards; raising mental health awareness and encouraging conversation about the support available.

So, with clear guidance and standards like these, there is no excuse for failing to take concrete action on mental health in construction in 2019. And with the breadth of resources available today, it is within everyone’s grasp.


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