Last edited 03 Aug 2017

Building Site to Boardroom (BS2B)

The construction industry, with its stereotypical macho image, has long had something of a stigma with regard to mental health and wellbeing.

All that could be changing though, as several initiatives try to address the ‘unspoken’ issues that surveys suggest affect more than 80% of workers in construction. Such problems include anxiety or depression, and the Samaritans have reported that construction workers are six times more likely to die of suicide than a fall.

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Building Site to Boardroom (BS2B) is a non-profit organisation set up to try and change the culture within the industry and introduce self-awareness and mindfulness tools to help improve inner wellbeing and create safer and happier working environments.

Designing Buildings Wiki interviewed BS2B’s founders, Dave Lee and Andy Dean. Together they have a wealth of construction experience. Dean is also a trained therapist, has been delivering training programmes since the mid-90s, and is a qualified mental health first aider. Lee is the author of the book ‘The Hairy-Arsed Builder’s Guide to Stress Management’, written after his own recovery from mental health-related issues.

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Designing Buildings Wiki (DBW):

What was the driving force behind starting the BS2B company?

Dave Lee & Andy Dean (DL/AD):

We wanted to make a difference and effect a culture change by delivering tools that support the individual in becoming more resourceful, resilient and better able to manage challenging and stressful situations.

We also wanted to introduce a way of being able to relate to each other using a language that challenges the stereotypes and stigma and starts to break down old ideas that surround mental health in construction. So we created an on-line training that can be downloaded on to a computer or as an app on your tablet and smart phone, which can be supported by in-house training.


DBW:

What are some of these 'old ideas' that you see as being detrimental to mental wellbeing in regard to the construction industry?

DL/AD:

There are many forms of prejudices that can be detrimental. People are afraid of being labelled or known as being mentally ill, what does that even mean to most people mean? It`s too easy to end up being bullied because its misunderstood or stuck with a label ‘mental or a nutter’. People are often worried about becoming ‘unapproachable’ as others wonder what they should say to a person that's been labelled/diagnosed mentally ill, depressed or suffering from anxiety.

The culture in construction has always been: it’s a tough job, a tough environment, no time for namby pamby stories, get on with the job and forget about it with a few pints later.

Attitudes are starting to change. Back in 2014, the Considerate Contractor’s code of practice changed to introduce wellbeing onto the construction site, but it`s focus was more on diet and the general health, rather than addressing and supporting inner wellbeing.

There’s always the concern that if you’re seen as a weak link or a liability you’ll be replaced with someone else, so the tendency is to keep your head down and get on with things. Trying to break that and get people to be a bit more honest and open about what’s going on for them, how they ‘feel`, is going to be a challenge.

The stigma of being labelled ‘mentally ill’ or having mental health issues is being challenged in the media and wider society these days, but is it changing the ‘canteen culture’ on site, or in the boardroom? It will take time, but we have to start somewhere or it will just continue as it always has.

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DBW:

In terms of tackling mental wellbeing, do you think the industry is hindered by its macho/masculine image?

DL/AD:

Yes, because of the old ideas of what it means to be a man, macho and masculine. It’s the ‘put up and shut up' attitude. If you're seen as weak, unsafe, unreliable and unable to cope, this could be held against you in many ways, such as promotion. And when is banter no longer banter, when does it go too far? How aware are we of how our behaviour and language impacts not just ourselves but those around us?

Then there`s the language or cultural barrier on some sites. A lot of people within the construction industry are self-employed, without sick or holiday pay, and taking time off is a loss of earnings. So, that in itself can be a real source of stress. Couple that with the increase in automatisation through technology and it will add up to an increase in uncertainty in the future.



DBW:

Are there any international examples that you see as being positive models?

DL/AD:

Some Scandinavian countries are quite a way ahead, but their whole approach to society and their models of work seem a lot more inclusive in general. We could learn a lot from them.

There is a charity in Australia called MATES in Construction that was created because of the disproportionate number of suicides from construction workers. It was effective, it reduced the suicide rate and made a real difference, but surely the really important thing is catching people way before they feel suicidal. If we can better resource people in staying mentally healthy and help them be more personally responsible for their wellbeing, as well as intervene when the signs of anxiety and depression are there this makes it a more holistic approach. You have to support and try joining it up from all ends for a workable strategy, creating a good foundation to build on, starting with resourcing the individual in a way that helps them meet the challenges in their work and personal lives.



DBW:

What are the main things that you think people can take away and apply to their daily working life from one of your courses?

DL/AD:

The training works by supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of the individual by resourcing them with tools and simple reflective practices that demonstrate the benefits of self-awareness and being mindful. And how the impact of positive relationship building can create happier safer more productive environments

How to have a more compassionate relationship with themselves, because when we have compassion for ourselves, we can have it for others. In simple terms, be kinder to ourselves and know that we matter.

To be more resourceful and able to deal better with conflict, stress and difficult situations. To have healthier relationships with others. And also, to be able to use a language that encourages a conversation around mental health and how ‘I feel’, and understand that asking for support can be a strength.



DBW:

What has the response been from the industry so far?

DL/AD:

There is a growing understanding among companies that if they can resource the workforce better, they will be a better workforce. The cost of the £35 foundation course can be claimed back through the CITB levy. We are also in talks with several larger contractors interested in rolling out the programme and have been running pilot schemes with a handful of others.

So, on the whole there is positive understanding of what we are doing. There are some companies that are uncertain about the whole `wellbeing` issue, what it means and what it might cost them, and some are still looking at what support is available for their workforce. It's a new concept for the industry so it's going to take some time for it to become normal to be talking about mental wellbeing, but so far, the uptake and response has been positive.



DBW:

What are your hopes for BS2B in the future? How would you like to see it expand and develop?

DL/AD:

To continue to change the culture in construction by supporting The Mates in Mind initiative in resourcing the individual in their work and personal lives. We would like for the training to be made available for everyone in construction.

To bring out level one and two of the online training, we aim to continue growing from strength to strength by collaborating with industry bodies. We are looking to develop a continuing roll out programme that provides accessible interactive training programmes, that continue to create change and supports the inner wellbeing of everyone in construction.


BS2B are working alongside the Construction Industry Helpline. 0845 6051956

In addition to the online training courses, BS2B have partnered Righttrack Consultancy and have developed material for contractors’ tool box talks, provide engagement and impact sessions and full and half day trainings. All trainings and workshops can be created bespoke to meet the needs of the client

The online self awareness foundation course can be downloaded as an app here.

Using a series of animations, the course guides the user through exercises that teach people how to practise these principles and in doing so learn how to cope with situations at work and at home that in the past have triggered stress and anger. You can see an example animation on Youtube here.

For further information, see the BS2B website.

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