Pushing forward health and wellbeing in construction

4 min read

The construction sector is often accused of having been slow to understand and adopt the health and wellbeing agenda. Mace’s Judith Grant, our Associate Director of Health and Wellbeing, explains how Mace is working to put it at the centre of everything we do.  

The impact of the built environment on wellbeing is significant. We build hospitals, schools, neighbourhoods, businesses, cultural centres; all of which can positively influence the wellbeing of those who use or live in these structures.  Buildings have the power to lift the spirit, improve health and create communities where people can thrive. 

The construction sector has a huge role to play in influencing the wellbeing of our employees. Just as we ensure we are responsible businesses, minimising harm to the environment through construction, we must too continue to push the boundaries in eliminating harm to health of those who work in the industry.

Over 140 million working days are lost each year to sickness absence in the UK at a cost to employers of £9 billion a year and a cost to the state of £13 billion a year .In addition to this 1.3 million workers suffer from work-related ill-health; workplace ill-health accounts for 13,000 deaths each year . In 2016/17 stress, depression and anxiety overtook musculoskeletal disorders as the most commonly reported work-related illness . Poor health, whether or not caused or influenced by work, impacts an individual, their family, their employer and the state. 

Construction remains a high risk industry for health issues.  Despite improvements in addressing risk there is still work to be done. A collaborative approach with clients, principle contractors, our supply chain partners, designers and engineers, and all others involved in construction, will help to ensure health risks are considered a priority.

Creating opportunities for good wellbeing

Work is good for our wellbeing, so long as that work is good work (i.e. not exposing an individual to physical or psychological harm).  Studies show that, aside from the financial rewards of work, work can enhance both psychological and physical health and wellbeing .  If health risks are addressed and managed, workplaces have an opportunity to promote, educate and encourage positive health behaviours to benefit the individual and the workplace.  

Wellbeing will mean different things to different people and what works for one organisation may be different to another. Ultimately wellbeing must be central to the way we support, engage and reward people at work.

Across our projects and offices, we’ve introduced a number of initiatives that are already making a difference: 

Health in design: construction staff 

At an iconic central London cultural construction project last year, Mace worked closely with the architects, the wider design team, and the client to devise ways for mitigating foreseeable health risks and implemented them directly into the design itself. Controls included: 

  • Prefabricating bricks remotely in controlled manufacturing environments, protecting our team from inhaling any brick dust or debris;  
  • Reducing occupational health risks related to manual handling and repetitive movements by raising our scaffold lifts by 1.2 meter increments so bricks were laid at waist height.

Health in design: office staff 

At a major Mace construction project in South East London, the project team, client and supply chain have worked together to enhance rest and office areas on site.  

The team worked with a local primary school to create a garden next to the site offices, for all employees working on site to enjoy.  

Standing desks made with reclaimed scaffolding have been introduced, colourful phone booths so staff can make phone calls in private and improved rest areas have also been created to enhance employee wellbeing.  Colour has been introduced throughout the offices to brighten the space. 

Wellbeing awareness: Wellbeing Week 2017

Mace recently held a Wellbeing Week for all Mace employees and supply chain partners working on Mace sites around the world.  Over 270 activities were organised by volunteer Wellbeing Ambassadors across 40 Mace locations to engage employees with Wellbeing. 

Simple messaging using the New Economic Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ was used to engage the workforce with Wellbeing.  Activities included health checks, lunchtime walks, stress awareness sessions, art classes, various wellbeing talks and fundraising and volunteering for a variety of charities.  

While a Wellbeing Week may not bring long lasting behaviour change within an organisation, it can raise awareness, educate and bring together a global workforce with a common goal.

Strategic measurement of wellbeing: Wellbeing Survey

Working with industry leaders in wellbeing, Robertson Cooper, Mace has recently carried out a Wellbeing Survey gathering information from nearly 70% of employees across the global business.

The survey collected information on physical and mental wellbeing, productivity, engagement, resilience, motivations and stressors in order to design a wellbeing strategy tailored to the specific needs of different business sectors and teams.  Following implementation of action plans during 2018 the survey will be rerun to monitor progress.

Looking to the future

Mace will continue to promote, encourage and enforce the management of health risks on our sites and engage the workforce with wellbeing activities.  We look forward to the continued sharing of best practice both in the construction sector and externally. We believe that health and wellbeing will continue to emerge as not only a risk to be managed, but also an opportunity to boost productivity through a healthy and engaged workforce.

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