The mental working environment in the building and construction industry is different to other industries in many ways. This is a hazardous industry involving trades which may make stringent demands in terms of execution and quality. Working relations may also cause problems as such work does not merely involve relationships between employees and employers, but also relationships with other trades, project designers, suppliers and developers.
Mental stresses at work can lead to higher levels of sick leave, mental burnout, lack of job satisfaction, conflicts or employees leaving the enterprise.
The rules in this field relate primarily to three things:
- Heavy workload and major time pressure
- Traumatic events, e.g. in the case of serious industrial accidents.
- Bullying and sexual harassment.
Heavy workload and major time pressure
Heavy workload and major time pressure may be caused or worsened by poor planning or no planning at all, particularly as regards coordination between different trades which have to work close to one another or one after the other. Heavy workload and major time pressure can be prevented by means of factors such as good planning, which should be carried out at all levels. Developers, project designers, contractors, employers, employees and gangs all influence good planning. Check the health and safety plan and bring the problem up at startup meetings and safety meetings if you think the heavy workload and time pressure are due to poor coordination and planning on the building or construction site.
Employees’ influence on how work is to be performed may be of significance to both time pressure and job satisfaction. It is important for employees to help decide on the workload in order to avoid excessive time pressure and to ensure that they have the right skills for the job in hand. This influence may also involve selecting methods so that procedures which are harmful to health can be avoided.
Employees who work alone are particularly vulnerable if they are working under time pressure or if they have heavy workloads. Employees should always be able to get in touch with a manager or colleague at any time on a mobile phone. This enhances security and may prevent stress.
There may be an increased risk of accidents if staff do not pay particular attention to the use of technical aids, clean up, regularly ensure that safety precautions are updated, etc. as a result of time pressure.
Learning and training are also of significance when it comes to preventing heavy workload and time pressure, and they are also important for the prevention of accidents. It is important to ensure that all employees are familiar with the handling of materials, machinery and tools to be used for the work. Foreign workers and new employees may have a greater need for instruction than Danish employees, just as they may have a greater need for support from their Danish colleagues.
Unfortunately the accident rate in the building and construction industry remains high, so there is a risk of employees or managers witnessing serious accidents, or even falling victim to accidents themselves. It is important within the enterprise to be able to look after the staff who have experienced this and who may be seriously mentally affected by it. The rules therefore require enterprises to have arrangements for mental first aid, as well as a contingency plan for dealing with the accident itself.
Mental first aid is a universal human form of assistance to help people deal with unpleasant and traumatic events. One or more people who can give mental first aid if and when required must be appointed within the enterprise. These people must have the necessary training and access to appropriate equipment (e.g. transport, telephones, etc.). Employees of the enterprise must be notified of the arrangements for mental first aid, and the enterprise is responsible for establishing the content of these arrangements.
The person/people responsible must be able to:
- provide reassurance around the injured party, take control and maintain an overview,
- listen attentively, quietly and patiently to what the injured party has to say about what has happened,
- seeks to address the injured party’s self blame,
- ensure that the injured party does not drive home alone while in shock or groggy,
- notify the injured party’s relatives about what has happened,
- agree on the procedure over the next few days and weeks with the injured party.
If the employees are very shocked, there may be a need for actual crisis counselling as a follow-up to mental first aid. Many enterprises have a health scheme covered by the collective agreement where staff can receive free mental assistance over the phone. This can be anonymous and independent of the workplace. Otherwise, staff can get help from a professional crisis psychologist.
Bullying and harassment
Bullying is defined as offensive actions that may be perceived as hurtful or degrading. Harassment is generally understood to mean bullying of a sexual nature. The victims’ perception of the offensive actions is important to understanding bullying. In this context, it does not matter whether the actions are merely inconsiderate or a result of definite desire to fed the victim. Whether or not malicious action is intended is of no significance to victims’ perception of bullying.
Offensive actions only become bullying when the people at whom they are targeted are not capable of defending themselves effectively against them. Teasing perceived by both parties as good-natured or individual conflicts is not bullying.
Bullying and sexual harassment can occur in all places of work. Therefore, the management should express clear attitudes towards bullying/sexual harassment. The enterprise may, for example, formulate a clear policy on the prevention of bullying and sexual harassment. A personnel policy with emphasis on openness and communication can help to prevent bullying and sexual harassment. This may, for example, include action plans for prevention, potential complaints, dealing with complaints and suchlike.
Look for simple, practical solutions. Make bullying a shared problem in the workplace, and not just a problem between the bullies and the people being bullied. Where necessary, discuss the problem within the working environment group/working environment organisation and discuss specific measures for dealing with the problem.
The mental working environment involves much more than is defined in the rules. General, everyday wellbeing in the workplace is crucial to people’s perception of good or bad working days.
Effective cooperation, with openness and communication, are very significant when it comes to creating a positive sense of community within the enterprise and for prevention of conflicts.
Respect and fairness are important elements both within the enterprise and on the building site. General good relations and inclusion of employees’ points of view are important criteria for good cooperation.
People often have to deal with new colleagues in the building and construction industry. A good, welcoming culture in the enterprise and on the building site helps to ensure that new colleagues are welcomed in a friendly fashion. This is particularly applicable to young staff, trainees and foreign colleagues, who should be made very familiar with working conditions and what is expected of managers and employees in order to maintain good levels of health and safety and constructive forms of cooperation.
Problems with cooperation can also occur within established gangs, and these problems should be resolved before they develop into real conflicts. For example, it is possible to resolve problems by reorganising the gangs in a way that ensures everyone gets on with their nearest colleagues and managers.