Millions of days are lost each year because of stress, depression and anxiety. In addition, the quality of work suffers. It therefore makes sense to reduce the pressure on your workers

Recent research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicates that, across all industries, 12.8 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2004/5. Each case of stress-related ill health led to an average of 31 working days lost. Not only can stress have an impact on a business because of absence but there are also hidden costs in terms of low morale, lower productivity, substandard work and increased recruitment and retention costs.

In terms of safety, construction is a high hazard sector and statistics have shown that between April 2004 and March 2005, 71 workers died and more than 7,500 suffered injuries reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations. Research has suggested, perhaps understandably, that historically there has been more of a focus on safety hazards rather than health hazards and that the management of occupational health issues such as stress needs improvement.

The Chartered Institute of Building carried out a survey of construction workers in 2006. This demonstrated that an industry that on the one hand can be challenging and stimulating can also be extremely pressurised. More than two-thirds of respondents had suffered from stress, anxiety or depression. The causes included skills shortages, inadequate staffing, the pressure of deadlines and tight margins.

The survey also showed that poor planning, poor communications and lack of feedback were also factors.

As a result of this survey, and as part of the HSE’s strategy to manage and reduce work-related stress generally, further research has been commissioned to gain a greater understanding of the level, causes and extent of stress.

This was a postal survey conducted on a sample of construction workers and the results provide an insight into the level of work-related stress within the industry.

The “top five” most stressful aspects of work for the sample who responded were having too much work to do in the time available, travelling or commuting, being responsible for the safety of others at work, working long hours and having a dangerous job.

Stress may be more widespread than the statistics show but is hidden because of a macho culture in the industry

It also indicated, perhaps surprisingly, that management grade employees, road maintenance staff, designers and administration staff report more stress than other job roles such as labourers and operatives.

It has also been suggested that the levels or incidence of stress within the construction industry may be higher than the statistics indicate, as the industry’s macho culture acts as a barrier to reporting problems.

The HSE defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. They have developed management standards for work-related stress with the aim of managing, and thereby reducing the incidence of work-related stress. Employers should pay attention to these guidelines.

The survey also recommended that further research was necessary and suggested that steps need to be taken to raise stress awareness. It emphasised the importance of consultation with the workforce and keeping and maintaining full records of occupational ill-health, including stress-related illnesses. Employers should be carrying out return to work interviews to identify any problems with an underlying medical condition that could be attributed to stress.

Once you have identified that an employee(s) may be suffering from stress you may need to take action to put things right such as redistributing or reallocating workloads.

You should ensure you have a well-drafted stress policy as this is vital to confirm that you take issues of stress seriously and to help encourage a working environment where workers feel able to report problems at an early stage.