If you were in charge of health and safety within the sport of Formula 1, you would rightly be judged upon the number of accidents and fatalities. If they decreased during your tenure, most would agree you were doing a good job. It is highly unlikely that your success or failure would be judged upon the amount of crash barrier you had purchased.
If you were in charge of safety within an airline, your success would be judged upon a reduction or elimination of plane crashes. It would not be judged upon the amount of money you spent on seat belts.
Here in construction, however, we do things differently. We do not judge our success in the fight against suicide within our ranks based upon a reduction in the number of people taking their own lives (which is just as well because the number is still climbing). No. We apparently judge it based upon the number of mental health first aid courses sold.
During a Mental Health in Construction reception hosted at the Houses of Parliament last week, it was claimed that the industry was winning the fight against the mental health and suicide crisis. And the evidence for this bold but entirely spurious claim was that sales of mental health awareness courses had gone up.
The last set of suicide statistics from the Office for National Statistics proved that industry suicides had actually risen. Even then, the annual figure given – 507 – is thought to be just a fraction of the true number.
All of which raises another question. The old adage says that “if you can measure it, you can manage it”. If we can’t even get a firm handle on the number of industry workers taking their own lives, how can we possibly hope to stem the tide?
As if that weren’t worrying and depressing enough, it now appears that some of the charities that are tackling the mental health crisis are now jostling for position. Surely they should be unifying to fight a common foe, not fighting to be the wannabe suicide’s charity of choice.
While Government pats itself on the back and while charities fight among themselves, construction workers are dying (although the rate at which they’re dying is seemingly anyone’s guess).
And all the while this is going on, the situation facing demolition and construction workers continues to worsen.
A new report last week says that almost two in five UK tradespeople are working extra shifts or doing longer hours because of the cost-of-living crisis, and nearly a quarter say they can’t afford to take any days off. More than nine in ten take less than the required amount of annual leave – On average, they take just 11 days off per year. And 26 percent of those surveyed admit to working while they’re unwell. I can only assume that means both physically AND mentally.
So, just to be clear, selling more mental health first aider courses is NOT winning the fight. It merely proves that the industry is better at selling than it is at listening. The fact that the number of suicides is still rising despite the presence of more mental health first aiders surely calls into question the validity and efficacy of those training courses.
And all the time that Government spins it as a success; all the while the industry pursues its virtue signalling approach; and all the time those charities jostle for the limelight, people are dying. They are dying in their hundreds. For all we know, they might be dying in their thousands.
This column was inspired by episode #471 of The Break Fast Show.