Poor mental wellbeing has a human cost, and also impacts the bottom line of rail business. Costain has been improving its resistance to these issues, and improving the mental health and wellbeing of its staff and the wider supply chain.
The Office for National Statistics have reported that low-skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than falls from height. For contractors, work-related pressure can be excessively high, and can be a major contributor to poor mental wellbeing. The Infrastructure Safety Leadership Group’s 2016 Work-Related Pressure Rail Industry Survey reported that approximately a third of respondents were under pressure to deliver work multiple times a shift. Importantly, the survey picked up that 25% of respondents believed pressure contributed to a reduction in safety controls and 55% believed corners were cut. Mental health and safety go hand in hand.
Costain have recognised that, as an employer, they are uniquely placed to influence the mental wellbeing and safety of their staff. Over the last few years, the company has been developing its mental health and wellbeing capacities for its staff. Since 2016, they have set an organisational target for mental wellbeing, and have taken tangible measures that can contribute to a healthier workforce. Senior leadership buy-in has delivered funding for training to help ensure success.
As well as putting in place measures to prevent mental ill health, Costain’s 2016 corporate strategy committed to having a mental health first aider in every office and project. They now have over 250 mental health first aiders in the business, and have had an employee complete the train the trainer course to support the costs of rollout. Costain have put in place a monitoring framework around their mental health first aiders project, facilitating bi-monthly meetings regionally, to support the staff in this this role. Costain’s mental health first aiders use an app to monitor the number of conversations, helping to identify location hotspots. This helps the company to target support and interventions, such as strategic line manager training; as well as demonstrating the use and value of the project.
The 2017 strategy went further, with improving the mental wellbeing literacy of line managers becoming a competencies priority. This training is compulsory as part of line manager competency management. Find out more about mental health training for line managers.
In 2018, the strategy focussed on ensuring that all people who work on site for a significant period have some exposure to mental wellbeing awareness training, such as a toolbox talk. Costain has found trainers and speakers their workforce connect with to develop mental health awareness amongst all its staff. These include the charity State Of Mind which ‘harnesses the power of sport to promote positive mental health among our sportsmen and women, fans and wider communities, and ultimately to prevent suicide’. They have had the comedian, John Ryan, who is a former sheet metal worker, give talks on mental health. In February 2018, Costain joined the growing list of rail companies to have signed the Time to Change Pledge, demonstrating an organisational commitment to change the way they think and act in relation to mental health.
One of the most progressive steps Costain has taken is to open up their Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to its supply chain. Many of its suppliers are small companies who simply do not have the resources which larger companies have. For smaller companies, the cost of procuring and managing health and wellbeing services may not be perceived as an affordable business decision. There may also be larger suppliers who have not reached this level of maturity in health and wellbeing. Costain’s approach sends a very strong message that the health and wellbeing of everyone on site is valued, irrespective of their employer. This demonstrates that Costain is a responsible business; but also makes financial and safety sense for the company.
This year, 2019, Costain launched a new three-year strategy for Wellbeing, Inclusion, Innovation, Safety and Environment (WiiSE), placing Wellbeing at the forefront of the business. WiiSE targets include a company-wide impact day to focus on Wellbeing, which saw all contracts stop work to watch a Skype broadcast with members of the Executive Management Team, followed by local engagement sessions; and integrating wellbeing training for line managers. The commitment to the wellbeing programme has been recognised by Business in the Community (BITC) at their awards in July 2019, with Costain being highly commended in the Bupa Health and Wellbeing category.
Small considerations can make a big difference for staff; and a lot of Costain’s supply chain are paid hourly. Employers may fear that managing mental wellbeing means losing paid hours, whereas it can simply mean being flexible with working hours to attend medical appointments or managing the demands of childcare. Flexibility and improving understanding of the impact of work-related pressure within the business has contributed to greater psychological safety within the workforce, which translates into greater physical safety. People are increasingly confident to identify concerns, reducing the risks associated with trying to meet too many demands at the same time. It has become ok to say ‘I can’t do it’.