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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Construction Insights

Mental health in the construction industry

Perhaps the most staggering statistic available about the UK construction industry is that two construction workers take their own life every single day in the UK. Recent information released by the UK Office of National Statistics and the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity suggest that mental ill health is more acute in the construction industry than any other.

Globally, poor physical and mental health in the construction industry is not new, although we are only recently becoming truly aware of the extent of the problem, particularly as regards mental health. Contributing factors include isolated and poor quality working and living conditions, time away from friends and families, disconnection from technology and the outside world and lengthy shifts.

Mental health issues, in particular, can trigger alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution abuse, which as a consequence can prevent money from getting back to distant families and, as part of a vicious circle, exacerbate stress, anxiety and depression levels. These issues are often more severe on remotely located projects or where workers are brought in from abroad and are thus more isolated.

Globally, poor physical and mental health in the construction industry is not new, although we are only recently becoming truly aware of the extent of the problem, particularly as regards mental health. Contributing factors include isolated and poor quality working and living conditions, time away from friends and families, disconnection from technology and the outside world and lengthy shifts.

Mental health issues, in particular, can trigger alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution abuse, which as a consequence can prevent money from getting back to distant families and, as part of a vicious circle, exacerbate stress, anxiety and depression levels. These issues are often more severe on remotely located projects or where workers are brought in from abroad and are thus more isolated.

In response to these recent statistics, various UK head contractors have begun implementing programs to prioritise the mental health of construction workers.
However, while many project developers and contractors across the globe are reported to have systems in place to help address mental health symptoms, such as on-site mental health programs, on-site counselling facilities and Employment Assistance Programs (EAPs), reports suggest more could be done to treat the causes of poor mental health, for instance through educating workers and shifting the workplace culture.

As specialist construction lawyers, the Clifford Chance Construction Group regularly draft construction contracts that impose vast ranges of compliance obligations aimed at protecting the people and the environment surrounding the construction works, and the physical wellbeing of construction workers at site. However, rarely do we see obligations in contracts or industry standards focussing on the mental wellbeing of those construction workers.

Developers, lenders, contractors and advisers alike could be doing more to deal with the very real, adverse impact that conditions in the construction industry can have on mental health issues. That includes us, as lawyers. We should be engaging more with our clients on these issues. Whether it be making general enquiries with clients about the mental health support available on their projects, sharing examples of support / prevention measures we have seen working effectively, or even recommending inclusion of contractual requirements regarding work place training, support systems or prevention strategies for mental health issues, such engagement may positively influence working environments and support construction workers.