Last year, half a million working days were lost through site injury, yet 1.2 million were lost through work-related ill health. Mental health is often a taboo subject but it received the most reaction at the FIS annual conference last November.

Many think mental health is too remote for them to pay attention to it, but one in four experience mental health issues each year. Back in 2003 more than 200 construction workers committed suicide, more workers than in any other industry sector according to Building magazine. There were calls for action to reduce this appalling human tragedy, yet little has been achieved. In 2015 male suicides were at their highest level for 14 years.

Martin Coyd OBE, regional head of  environment, health & safety – Europe at Lend Lease, told our conference that mental health is something we don’t talk about.  A room full of hard-headed businessmen were probably wondering what this had to do with running their business. But 45 minutes later, delegates were describing how they could have been one of those victims, how they had felt isolated and unable to ask for help.  The theme dominated discussion that evening.

I’m pleased to announce our support for Mates in Construction – launched at the  Construction Health Summit in January. The first FIS Mental Health First Aid course takes place on 22 March, and we will run further courses, drive this important project and continue to support Mind and the Samaritans at events.

The construction industry can be a tough place to work; it can also, of course, cause lasting health issues. One that is evident in our sector is muscular skeletal injury caused by lifting heavy plasterboard. You don’t see many old dryliners for good reason – they have succumbed to back or shoulder injury through prolonged lifting and twisting. With the skills shortage ever-present, it makes no sense to drive experienced  people out of the industry: we should  develop systems and work practices that do not cause injury.

As part of the FIS philosophy we are  supporting a campaign to reduce plasterboard weight and are working with manufacturers, merchants, clients, contractors and HSE to ensure this change doesn’t cause major disruption to the industry. This requires an industry-wide plan that everyone can buy into. Weight will be incorporated in a major review of the British Standard, and there are also plans to reduce waste in the sector. It makes no sense to deal with each in isolation, as one will inevitably impact upon the other.

There were nearly 60,000 cases of work-related illness caused by either mental health or musculo-skeletal disorder in 2014–15; 84 per cent of total illness. As Martin Coyd said: “If the whole industry joins forces, we can shoot the lights out. I believe it is a great opportunity for a game changer and to transform the whole industry in creating the best places for all our people to work, thrive and enjoy life.”


FIS chief executive