How Hinkley Point C is taking on the taboo of mental health in the construction industry

by Rob Jordan, Construction Director

Mental health is a serious problem in the construction industry and for many years not much was done to help people suffering from it. Long periods away from home and a macho culture means those with stress, loneliness and anxiety had to suffer alone. Poor diet and a lack of regular exercise can make people less resilient.

Here at Hinkley Point C we are determined to take practical steps to help workers, as well as tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s as important to us as dealing with industrial safety. We talk about having an aim of “Zero Harm” for people building the power station. That includes mental health. Understanding why people are suffering is key to being able to help, particularly when there is a reluctance to speak openly. To borrow a nursing term, you have to lift the plaster to see what's underneath.

From my experience of the construction industry, both here in the UK and overseas, I know that we are doing more to tackle the issue of mental health than on any other project.

The project offers safe working conditions, good welfare facilities – that means good, healthy food on site, high quality and affordable accommodation, free gyms and sports pitches at site and in nearby Bridgwater. We are also building a sense of community that can help avoid feelings of isolation.

Professional health care services are available on site, including a GP service, specially-trained nurses and a physiotherapist.

Our team won an industry 'Health and Safety 2019 Award' for mental health support. The judges described the efforts at site as "a new benchmark for the industry" with an "innovative step-change of approach to mental health and well-being".

Mental health awareness training is provided for managers and supervisors to create a supportive environment and help identify potential signs to allow early intervention.

Over 200 men and women volunteers act as trained mental health buddies from a range of occupations, ages and experience, so anyone should feel comfortable talking about their concerns.

We have a programme of support for apprentices, including advice on gambling, money management, healthy eating and life skills and work closely with local charity 'In Charley's Memory'.

'Time to Talk' rooms are available around the site, encouraging conversations and offering additional help.

Having a safe working environment is an important part of a joined-up approach to maintaining good mental health. The focus on safety is very strong, with rates comparing favourably with other large projects in the UK, but we can - and must - always strive to do better.

I am proud of what we are doing to challenge the silence, encouraging people to open up and talk, safe in the knowledge that no-one will think any the less of them for having the courage to speak out.