Anne Timpany, Director at On Tap Plumbers, says that the scale of the mental health crisis affecting the industry means it can only be tackled if the whole supply chain works together.

Recently, I attended an event in the City of London and the speaker was the Director of Health and Wellbeing at construction company Mace. She was very knowledgeable and talked about a lot of the statistics and research she has gathered about how mental health affects the construction industry. 

One of the statistics that had an impact on me, but wasn’t surprising, was the number of suicides in the industry. Construction has the second highest rate of suicide of any industry in the UK. However, I saw an article last year posted online by a media outlet stating that research has shown that plumbers are the happiest in their jobs in Britain, and builders came second. This doesn’t seem to match up.  

The construction industry is marred with a reputation for being conservative, and it is well known for not dealing with the issues of health and wellbeing of the labour force. The room at the event was less than 50% full, and most of the people were there for the networking opportunity afterwards. I felt that was indicative of how seriously the industry takes this issue.

When the question and answer session began, I put my hand up first. I am a very practical person and, although data and surveys are all good for information gathering, what I’m interested in is real action. 

I pointed out to the speaker that I run a firm that has a team of plumbers on one of Mace’s London sites. When most of these statistics relate to tradespeople who they sub-sub-subcontract work out to, I asked the question: how is Mace working with its supply chain to implement change and make a difference to these statistics? 

She didn’t give me a satisfactory answer, and basically said that they need to get their own house in order first. I did agree with her though as change has to be made starting at the top of the supply chain.

In my experience, most of the mental health issues experienced on-site comes from stress levels. These are caused by communication and information filtering down the supply chain. When we carried out work on Amazon’s HQ near Liverpool St. Station, our site supervisor was under so much stress due to mismanagement and variations it caused him to burn out and ultimately lost him his job. 

In my opinion, if main contractors really want to change the statistics around mental health on-site then they need to start looking at their own business processes and engage with their supply chain instead of passing the responsibility down the ladder.