Women in Health and Safety

On Friday 23rd February, our director Barbara Marino attended the Women in Health and Safety breakfast briefing hosted by Mace in the wonderful setting on the Hotel Cafe Royal (whose refurbishment was carried out by Mace in 2012).

The breakfast briefing was an opportunity for Judith Grant, Associate Director of Health and Wellbeing at Mace, not only to present her extraordinary journey towards Occupational Health and Wellbeing, but also to highlight the initiatives put in place by Mace across their projects and their workforce in general.

The topic of Occupational Health and Wellbeing is very high on the construction industry’s agenda but, because it is being talked about so much, there is the risk of diluting the message and focusing exclusively on reactive measures more than prevention. A typical example is the role of the Mental health first aider, this role should become an ambassador in mental health and not just a function operating in crisis mode.

Judith discussed how she has been taking a strategic look at health and wellbeing across the Mace business and her focus within the organisation on “creating wellbeing opportunities”, challenging the way in which we operate and how we design the way in which we work. Job design is a very interesting topic which helps to shift from merely reactive measures (such as training) to more preventative initiatives. For Mace this also means extending their efforts to their supply chain and making them part of wider health and wellbeing initiatives.

Why focusing on wellbeing at work? The first answer is: because it is simply the right thing to do! But clients have also got legal responsibility and the impact of a healthy workforce can have multiple benefits including individual people factors such as engagement, retention, job satisfaction, lower absenteeism, recommend the company to others. Also there are indisputable advantages from a Business reputation including attracting clients, positive publicity, improve business sustainability (through enhanced productivity).

Construction is still accounting for the second largest number of suicides in the industry, only behind agriculture (454 construction suicides in 2015). These are scary numbers and there is still a long way to go however, the construction industry is making progress finally getting a broader perspective whereby physical health in only one element of wellbeing with mental and social health being equally important. I.e. fruit in the office is a very good start…..but let’s not create the illusion that it all ends there!

Where does wellbeing sit within an organisation? It can vary, sometimes with HR, sometimes with Health and Safety. This confusion and random attribution doesn’t help the cause and it is detrimental to the focus of the ambassadors within any organisation who are willing to make a change. A better corporate stance for health and safety and wellbeing is a fundamental step change required to give health and safety and wellbeing the right profile and focus going beyond statements and ineffective propositions.

So, how do we “do” wellbeing at work”? Mainly in a couple of ways:

• Be kind, listen respectfully and respond respectfully;

• Look after the workplace environment, not just the physical one (which is very important to the point that WELL standards are now also applied to welfare facilities) but also how we design and organise our work. Why for example is not acceptable to have long and interrupted shifts on site but it is not challenged when our designers face proper “submission marathons” for example when facing a planning submission deadline?

Interestingly the BSI will publish their first Occupational health and wellbeing standard next month and we look forward to understand the implications on the workplace and the impact on real estate projects and development sites.