Mental Health in Industry

29 April 2022
mental health in industry

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May) we would like to take some time to highlight the mental health issues impacting those working within industry. We will also explore the progress that has been made, and what else can be done to tackle this issue. Mental health problems affect around 1 in 4 people in the UK every year. Frequently, these issues can be caused or exacerbated by the work environment. In 2020/21 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health (HSE UK). The past 2 years have presented particularly difficult circumstances, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing heightened distress, isolation and concerns over finances and job security. Although pandemic restrictions have eased, industry still has a long way to go to address the issue of mental health.

Safety First

Industries such as oil and gas, maritime and construction all have a strong safety-first approach at the forefront. The health and safety of workers is treated with the utmost importance. However, this only extends to physical health. In these sectors, mental health support falls far behind in comparison to other occupations. However, many in industry fail to consider the link between mental health and the risk of accidents and injury at work. Studies have shown that mental distress has a negative influence on the workers attitudes regarding safety and engaging in unsafe behaviour. A study focussing on construction workers found that the risk of work-related injuries increased more than two-fold for workers that reported depressive symptoms (Jacobsen 2013). This shows that addressing mental health is an integral part of creating a safe working environment.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week, commencing on the 9th May, aims to create dialogue and discussion around mental health. Discussing mental health is still somewhat stigmatised, especially within male-dominated environments such as the construction or oil and gas industry. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is loneliness. Loneliness is a significant issue in society, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced many of us apart from our families, friends and colleagues, leaving many feeling isolated. Although restrictions have now lifted, the pandemic has had a lasting impact. Remote working has become a permanent adoption for some businesses. Remote working has its benefits, such as providing a healthier work-life balance. However, some may feel isolated, particularly if they live alone.

Loneliness can also have a significant impact on those who frequently work offshore or away from their families. Those working on oil rigs or as seafarers can often be away on long stints for a month at a time. This can lead to a sense of being cut off from their life back at home. This can feel particularly poignant during times of celebration such as Christmas or birthdays. A study conducted by Robert Gordon University (2018) found that the 3&3 offshore rota introduced by some firms has a detrimental impact on mental health. The findings demonstrated that working continuously for three weeks has a negative impact upon mental wellbeing, causing high levels of fatigue whilst affecting the life of spouses, partners and children.

Mental Health in Construction

One industry which is plagued by mental health issues is the construction industry. Construction sites are notorious for having a “macho” culture which is deeply embedded in organisations. Showing emotion is often seen as a weakness in these environments, meaning that mental health has become a silent epidemic. Construction is also a high-pressure environment with long working hours, and the work can be physically demanding. This can result in stress and fatigue taking their toll.

Mental health can no longer be brushed under the carpet, with the industry having some of the worst suicide rates in the UK. Statistics show that male construction workers are 2.7 times more likely to take their own life compared to the average person (CIOB 2020). Health and safety within construction has improved significantly over the years, but these figures demonstrate that mental health must be shown the same sense of urgency. It is clear that construction workers also want to see change. Research has shown that 64% of construction workers want better mental wellbeing support. Though change is slowly starting to happen, 56% of construction professionals work for organisations with no policies on mental health in the workplace (CIOB 2020).

One organisation which is working toward actioning change in construction is Building Mental Health. Building Mental Health is a great initiative led by industry experts. The purpose is to provide a flexible and consistent framework to enable all parts of the construction sector to access mental health support, provide awareness and training and put in place a structure and systems to support people working in and around our industry. Mates in Mind is another UK based charity which provides support to the construction industry, aiming to transform the mental health culture in workplaces.

mental health in industry

Mental Health in Oil & Gas

Mental health is also a prominent issue in the oil and gas industry. Research shows that workers in the oil and gas industry suffer from anxiety and depression more frequently than the general population. Some roles within oil and gas come with a lot of pressure and responsibility. If mistakes are made by an individual, this can have serious consequences such as loss of life or significant environmental impact. This level of pressure can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. Similarly to construction, oil and gas is also a male-dominated industry, and it is known that men often find it more difficult to openly discuss their emotions.

Isolation

As well as these pressures, those in offshore roles face isolation and may lack a support network. Most oil platforms have poor internet connectivity, meaning that staying in touch with family and friends can be difficult and sometimes impossible. Depending on where the rig is based, socialisation offshore can also be challenging. Those working in different countries may struggle to form connections with colleagues due to language barriers and cultural differences. These issues all compound the sense of isolation that a worker may feel. Those working offshore can also experience fatigue, as the average offshore worker works a 12-hour shift.

Job Security

Pressure and job uncertainty is also increasing for oil and gas workers due to the impending energy transition. New skills and roles are required to fulfil the transition to low-carbon, renewable energy. This has resulted in some oil and gas workers feeling ill-equipped for the transition and concerned over their job security and future.

mental health in industry

Organisations such as BP offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to support employees and their immediate family. This programme runs 24/7 and can be used to discuss any mental health struggles a worker may be facing. It is operated by professional counsellors and telephone as well as face-to-face sessions are made available. It is encouraging to see programmes like this being put in place to support those in oil and gas. However, it is clear that more needs to be done to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the sector.

Mental Health in Maritime

Those working in the maritime industry face many of the same challenges as those in oil and gas. Seafarers are often away from family and friends for extended periods of time, which can cause feelings of isolation to manifest. An increase in automation onboard ships has also led to smaller crews, and like oil workers, seafarers may have different cultural backgrounds. Seafarers jobs can also be high-pressure and demanding, leading to burn out and fatigue.

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network is one organisation working for change. They offer Mental Health Awareness training for the maritime industry. This training enables someone to be able to recognise the early signs of mental health issues, as well as developing the skills to respond effectively. Tackling a mental health issue in the early stages is easier than when it has become more deep-rooted.

mental health in industry

Change is Needed

A culture of support and openness must be established within industry, particularly within male-dominated sectors where it is particularly stigmatised. Organisations must establish a framework which provides support for employees. For example, those working offshore or remotely can be offered tools such as video counselling. Establishing a permanent culture shift is done most effectively if it begins at the top of an organisation. Those at senior levels must set an example that it is important to discuss these issues openly.

Team building is also important, especially for those that work offshore and are away from their families. Recreational activities which encourage socialisation should be facilitated, as well as better internet connectivity where possible. This would allow workers to keep in closer contact with their loved ones at home. It should also be ensured that every oil rig and ship has someone onboard that is trained in mental health awareness. Workers should always feel like they have a support network and someone to turn to.

We hope that you have found this blog informative. Here at Fairwayrock we are always keen to shine a light on important issues that are affecting those in industry. Make sure that you are following us on our social media platforms where we discuss industry topics, news and products. You can find us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

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