Opinion – Awareness is not the same as Action

Have you ever seen an abandoned car by the side of the road? It might be the aftermath of an accident; it may have been ditched by a joy-rider; maybe it just broke down. But the car is swathed in blue and white tape that proclaims “Police Aware”.

Or have you ever been walking through a supermarket and come across an A-frame sign warning of a wet and slippery floor?

In both instances, someone has been despatched to tell the world they are aware of an issue. But they have done precisely nothing to fix the issue.

Unfortunately, the term “awareness” is now used as a stop-gap; an alternative to actual action.

As an industry, we are aware of the potential dangers of working at height. But we send men and women to do it anyway. We are aware that women, ethnic minorities and those from the LGBTQ community are grossly under-represented in the industry and that it’s partly due to the hostility and abuse that continues to permeate through sites up and down the land. We are aware of the mental health crisis and the fact that young demolition and construction workers are taking their own lives at a rate that is three times the national average. But we have done nothing to alter the working practices that leave those same young men in constant fear of non-payment of wages, unemployment or that require them to work for prolonged periods away from their families and wider support network.

We are aware, but we are doing nothing. And putting out a social media post featuring a happy, smiling young woman in PPE does not mean these issues have been fixed. Such posts are a sticking plaster; a shiny façade on an otherwise dilapidated mindset.

My job is to report the news; not to predict the future. No-one knows what will happen tomorrow, next week or next month. Forecasts are for the foolhardy. But…

There is growing concern about the issue of drugs and alcohol abuse within the demolition and construction sector. The Scottish Plant Hire Association has already called for action in this area; there are widespread rumours of entire demolition and construction crews failing random drug tests “en masse”; and there are many at ground level that are AWARE of the problem.

So here’s my prediction. Some companies will begin to appoint drugs awareness staff. They will post on social media how they are fighting against the pernicious problem of on-site drug abuse. They might even write a cheque for a local drug addiction support charity.

Industry trade associations will invite a drugs counsellor or a former user to speak at one of their conferences or seminars. Those same trade associations will encourage members to take a firmer stance on drugs and alcohol in the workplace. They will ask members to sign a commitment to do more. And a social media influencer or two will reveal all about their “drug-fuelled past” and their rehabilitation to seize their 30 seconds in the spotlight.

That’s what they will do. What they won’t do, however, is to amend working practices that have contributed to the misuse of drugs and alcohol. They will focus upon removing the drug crutch used by their workers rather than analysing why they require the crutch in the first place. They will fail to acknowledge that manual work can cause pain and fatigue; pain and fatigue that some are managing with drugs and alcohol. They will not consider the fact that drugs and alcohol are used to numb the emotional pain of isolation and loneliness caused by working away from home.

As an industry, we have been AWARE of the growing mental health awareness for a good five years. During an exclusive interview with Lighthouse Club CEO Bill Hill, he admitted that the mental health issue is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Awareness has done very little to stem the tide of that mental health crisis. It will be similarly ineffective in addressing the issue of drugs and alcohol abuse.

History and very recent experience proves that awareness alone is not enough.