REPORT FROM VICE-PRESIDENT, JAYNE HALL
The summer holidays are fading into a dim and distant memory as the hectic autumn schedule is upon us. October commenced with our Annual Conference and Exhibition at Kenilworth – a highlight of the CABE year – and I was almost moved to tears by a powerful and thought-provoking presentation by Reverend Kevin Fear.
Kevin is the Health and Safety Strategy lead at CITB and an active member of the Construction Industry Advisory Committee. Having over 40 years industry experience in civil engineering and occupational safety and health, Kevin talked about how one in six of us will suffer with mental health problems at some point in our lives. He told us about Building Mental Health, an industry initiative to provide resources and guidance to construction companies to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. In large print on their home page the shocking statement leapt out at me ‘Every working day, two construction workers take their own life’…
Writing my Journal piece in my best yellow jumper on World Mental Health Day I reflected on my own involvement in 2016, when I chose to fundraise for Young Minds mental health charity. Many people spoke to me and shared their own personal experiences that year and it was notable how media attention and royal patronage opened up the issue of mental wellbeing and broke down long-standing taboos. Yet still, at work, colleagues are suffering in silence for fear of being judged incapable, unprofessional or weak.
Our conference theme this year focused on Pathways to Excellence and Delivering more than Compliance in the Built Environment and I was struck by the air of positivity amongst delegates. Preceding years have been dominated by the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire where the after-effects are still being felt by communities, families and friends of those directly involved. This year the catastrophic financial collapse of construction giant, Carillion, has impacted on many clients, subcontractors and supply chain businesses, not forgetting their employees. The impact of these events has been well documented.
But let’s spare a thought for those personal tragedies that go unremarked upon, deemed too insignificant for front page headlines. The increase in construction businesses declaring bankruptcy after the demise of Carillion underlines the human impact. Yet the construction industry is notorious for a practice known as ‘phoenixing’ where unscrupulous directors deliberately avoid paying staff wages, pensions or creditors by dissolving their companies, only to re-materialise ‘phoenix-like’ from the ashes to start afresh under a new name. In August the government's Insolvency Service announced plans to tackle this abhorrent practice to help safeguard workers, pensions and small businesses. But is this too little, too late?
At the root of these events are people… individuals whose lives have been turned upside-down. A colleague was telling me that her train had been delayed…another fatality on the line. Whilst commuters tutted and grumbled about missed connections and arriving late to their destinations, a devastated family learned that their loved one would not be coming home…ever. Railway statistics show a worrying trend where public fatalities are up by 9.1% and 292 of these deaths are suicide or suspected suicide. That is over FIVE people each week taking their own lives in front of a train – someone feeling hopeless, desperate, unbearable pain every single working day – but we don’t get to hear about it.
As a society we are more isolated from each other than ever…despite the technological advances in how we communicate. The BBC Loneliness Experiment, launched back in February, looked at the causes of loneliness and aimed to find some solutions. Our lives are busy, our work puts us on a treadmill where we become trapped in unconscious compliance where we operate by habit, doing things because that’s how they’ve always been done. We hardly have time to look after ourselves let alone see to the needs of others. But, just as loneliness can affect any of us, so any of us can help to overcome it.
The message coming from CABE, in response to The Hackitt Review recommendations, is something that, deep down, we probably all know – We are ‘Safer together’.To paraphrase Dame Judith, we can improve the health and wellbeing in our industry by making small changes to improve the way we engage and network with our peers. We need to bring the four Cs into our culture... Collaboration, Communication, Compassion and Competence, to support ethics, risk management and standards. As she reports: ‘There is no reason to wait for legal change to start the process of behaviour change’.
Returning to Building Mental Health’s statement ‘…We have to educate everyone in our industry to recognise the signs and symptoms of our colleagues that are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression and start the conversation to assist in their recovery.’
CABE cares about our membership. The feedback from the Annual Conference was testament to the fabulous job our team at HQ do to ensure the Association delivers on its principal objectives to:
• promote and advance the knowledge, study and practice of each and all of the arts and sciences concerned with building technology, planning, design, construction, maintenance and repair of the built environment and the creation and maintenance of a high standard of professional qualification, conduct and practice
• encourage and facilitate co-operation between the construction professions.
For those of you who missed the opportunity to attend this year, look out for next year’s dates, and also the regional BuildEng events coming to a venue near you! In the meantime embrace the change that is coming – whether we like it or not, be kind and look out for each other.
Jayne Hall BSc (Hons) C Build E VPCABE FCABE
NB: If you, or any one you know, is affected by the issues raised above please remember the CABE Benevolent fund is there to assist members/former members of the CABE, and/or their dependants should they find themselves in difficulty and in need of help and support. More information can be found on the CABE website https://www.cbuilde.com/benevolent-fund/