Civil engineers must lead the way in promoting workplace mental health, expert argues

Senior experts at The Big Debate 2019 presented their ideas on wellbeing in construction.

Image credit: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash
Image credit: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash
Civil engineers should lead the way in shaping positive practice when it comes to mental wellbeing, according to the CEO of Brent, Wandsworth and Westminster Mind.

Simon Thompson, who joined other panellists at The Big Debate 2019, argued that employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for staff who have mental health problems - as outlined under the Equality Act 2010 – and that creating a ‘culture of understanding’ would benefit the sector more broadly.

The event, which took place on 8 July 2019, posed the question: ‘is the infrastructure sector meeting its obligations to promote mental health and wellbeing?’ Five speakers from across the industry presented their views on this, considering whether companies are doing enough to support their staff.

The debate was chaired by Nick Baveystock, Director General at the ICE, who opened the session by outlining some key statistics that demonstrated the extent of the problem - including the high rates of suicide among construction workers.

Baveystock also spoke about the work of the ICE Benevolent Fund, which offers mental health support to civil engineers who are currently or have previously been an ICE member.
 

Current wellbeing schemes just 'paper over cracks'

Sharan Gill, Principal Engineering Lead at Transport for London (TfL) and one of the panellists, argued that while mental health is now higher on the agenda, wellbeing schemes such as resilience training are often just “papering over the cracks” as in certain cases they're designed primarily to equip people to overwork.

Other speakers however, expressed a more positive view of where the sector is today. Gregor Craig, President and CEO at Skanska UK, argued that we should celebrate the large amount of work that's currently being done, and focusing on the positives is crucial to building momentum so that we can make a change more widely.
 

Katie Wood, Director at Arup, and Stephanie Barton, Assistant Consultant at WSP, both acknowledged the working environment as a key determinant of mental health, outlining that improving this area is crucial to creating a happier workforce.

Still a long way to go

The Q&A prompted discussion around how to measure success in employee wellbeing, differences in culture between small and larger businesses and the opportunities offered by technology. Other topics included identifying issues before they become visibly apparent and the unique challenges faced by the construction sector in this area.

Overall, there was consensus among the panellists that while some progress has been made, the industry still has a long way to go in creating a positive wellbeing culture and destigmatising mental health at work.

The debate, organised by the ICE London Graduate and Students Committee, was held at the ICE’s headquarters at One Great George Street in the Telford Theatre – opposite the Water Exhibition which is currently on display in the Infrastructure Learning Hub. 

ICE London’s next event is Engineering Cleaner Air in association with the City of London Corporation, as part of the 2019 Knowledge Programme. Further information can be found here

If you’d like to find out more about the services offered by the ICE Benevolent Fund, please visit its website at https://www.icebenfund.com/.
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