21 March 2018

Health and safety managers need to pay more attention to mental health

Forward thinking health and safety managers are increasingly focusing on health and not just the safety aspect of their role. The potential impact of mental ill-health is well known, especially in the construction industry where it’s been reported that employees are more likely to die from suicide than falls*. Health and safety managers need to be aware of the mental health support that is available and how to signpost employees to it.

The cost of mental ill-health

The cost of mental ill-health is high whether considering the human or economic cost. A quarter of us will experience a mental health issue each year**, and the UK economy is negatively impacted by £33 to £42*** billion annually.

Why it is critical for health and safety managers to engage with mental health

Although high-profile awareness campaigns are working towards removing the stigma, mental ill-health and particularly suicide is still a taboo. In last year’s Government Review, Thriving at Work the Stevenson/Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers, 8 in 10 employers*** reported no cases of employees disclosing mental health conditions. This is backed up by research conducted by Mind, which found that 30%**** of employees wouldn’t feel able to talk openly with a line manager if they were feeling stressed.       

Health and safety managers and HR departments have an obligation, both morally and as a part of their duty of care, to tackle this issue. The culture of silence must be addressed, and employees need to be offered mental health support as standard, says The Health Insurance Group.

How can health and safety managers protect employees?

There are a range of things health and safety managers can do, and the Stevenson Farmer report did acknowledge that green shoots of good practice are emerging in UK workplaces.

Review the mental health landscape of your organisation

In the first instance, health and safety managers should seek to understand their current culture around mental health; this will enable them to provide effective support. This may include identifying potential high-risk areas, roles or locations or particular issues their staff are struggling with. Targeted employee surveys are a really effective tool that progressive health and safety managers are using to understand the mental health landscape of their organisation. This is a solid starting point which can help to identify what type of support is the most appropriate.

Equip line managers

The first step in managing a mental health issue is usually a conversation between a worker and their manager. It’s critical to create an environment where this is encouraged and to equip line managers so that they are able to recognise potential issues and know what to do when an employee raises a mental health issue. A proactive approach and early intervention can prevent mental health issues from escalating.

Health and safety managers need to consider arranging specific training for managers in order to equip them. This helps to break down the taboo of mental ill-health and helps managers feel confident to deal with any issues when they arise.

What support is available?

There are a range of effective solutions available which offer support for a broad array of issues that can influence mental health, including stress management, encouraging fitness, and debt counselling. It is also very worthwhile for health and safety managers to review the mental health support that is available in existing employee benefits packages.

All employee assistance programmes (EAPs) include mental health support provided by 24/7 helplines, and many offer enhanced support through the provision of face to face counselling services for employees. Some EAPs even offer specific modules for managers that offer tailored advice for the challenges faced in a managerial role. Some EAPs also offer whistleblowing support. Group risk protection benefits and private medical insurance can also include mental health support.

Ensure employees are aware and signposted to relevant support

It is not enough to simply have support in place, employers must ensure that it is adequately communicated and promoted to staff. Even the most comprehensive support is useless if employees don’t know about it or feel awkward about accessing it. In order to promote its use and overcome some of the stigma it’s a good idea for managers to have training on how to signpost employees to the most relevant type of support. For example, if an employee’s mental health is being affected by money worries, a manager can direct them to debt counselling if it’s available.

Brett Hill, distribution director, said: “It’s really good to see health and safety managers being proactive about mental health in the workplace, especially in the construction industry where employees are at higher risk of suicide than the more obvious physical risks associated with their work. Employers should speak to their advisers about the breadth of support that is available in the market now to meet this urgent need.”

By reviewing company culture, identifying available support, equipping line managers and signposting workers to appropriate support, health and safety managers can play an important role in the provision of better mental health support.


** www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.WnrUQ2acZAY

*** www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

**** www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/