A webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and Safety and Health Engineering Partnership (SHEP) has been told that 17.9 million working days were lost to work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2019/20, according to the Labour Force Survey – half of all working days lost in the UK.
The impact of a mental health ‘pandemic’ will be felt across engineering workplaces for years after the Covid-19 crisis and economic recession is over, participants explained.
Peter Kelly, senior psychologist with the HSE’s stress policy team, told the event that, as with any other health and wellbeing issue, employers are obliged to identify mental health hazards, evaluate them, act and then continue to monitor progress.
“Social distancing should not feel like social disconnection; people like going into work to see people,” said Kelly. “Even just calling up to say ‘hi’ can make a huge difference.”
SHEP’s Chris Buxton said that the organisation he represented had been set up to create a dialogue between the engineering sector and the HSE so that health and safety issues could be dealt with before they became serious.
Reducing the “stigma” around mental health was key to addressing the growing problem in engineering professions and Kelly said advice and support needed to be tailored for different professions i.e. engineers had particular challenges and needed the support of a focused campaign.
“Honest and open conversations [between employers and employees] are the best solution and we need to get to that place in the work environment,” said firefighter Jonny Ward.
SHEP is a forum of engineering trade associations set up to engage, influence and inform the HSE to improve health and safety standards in the engineering sector.