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The construction sector’s contribution to the world’s GDP stands at almost 15% in 2019 and provided various livelihood opportunities along its value chain. In fact, it is anticipated that the sector will experience the fastest growth in Sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to the rest of the world by 2022. With such an optimistic forecast, we are not oblivious to the fact that challenges exist within the sector that need to be addressed. One such pervasive challenge is the inadequate attention to the mental health of actors within this sector.  In line with this year’s World Mental Health Day’s theme: Focus on Suicide Prevention, Ghana in particular and the world in general must adopt a more intentional approach to addressing the menace of suicide that plagues actors within the construction sector.

Data from a number of industrialized countries shows that construction workers are three to four times more likely than other workers to die from accidents at work or suffer other serious health conditions. Ghana’s construction industry holds the staggering statistic for being in the top occupation at risk for suicide, yet the stigma surrounding mental health on and off site often means sufferers deal with the pain in silence, and lock it in until it festers into something more severe.

Undoubtedly, the construction industry lifestyle is both challenging and stressful. Long and demanding working hours away from home for several weeks at a time; low remuneration; harsh working conditions and the lingering unease in the industry are just some of the factors contributing to poor mental health and safety in the industry.

Although several laws governing the construction industry such as the Factories, Offices and Shops Act, 1970 (Act 328), Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651), and Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1987 (PNDC 187) require firms to make sure that there is proper work health and safety administration on site, observational and anecdotal evidence suggest that this is not always the case particularly on small scale projects that are usually domestically owned.
 
The sometimes harsh conditions under which these artisans work include the lack of welfare facilities such as safety first aid appliance, good drinking water, sanitation amenities and other work facilities such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Even where they are provided, they do not always come with the full complement and authorities do not enforce regulations on the use of these safety gears.

Furthermore, being a workforce that is predominantly male, the “tough guy” image which is widespread in the construction industry is very much to blame for the little to no attention given to mental wellbeing. Asking for help and opening up about emotions are just not things that come naturally to many of those working in the industry. The combination of these factors results in many suffering in silence.

Consequently, the construction industry which is usually made up of young males between 17 and 45 years who have had little or no education have one of the highest incidences of suicide and other depression-related tendencies. Indeed studies have found that persons in occupations that do not require any further academic education after basic school are at a higher risk of suicide and other conditions that affect their mood, such as depression.

In 2012, Ghana passed a new Mental Health Act, to revamp mental health care in Ghana. The Act serves to create a system that provides effective mental healthcare as well as protect those who struggle with mental health issues. This is a step in the right direction and would further recommend that:

  • There should be a deliberate consciousness to strike a work-life balance. It must not be business as usual. Clients must not always award contracts to the contractors with the lowest price bid. There must be rigorous scrutiny of firms or individual artisans’ H&S records as part of the qualification criteria for award of contract. This will make construction more humane.
  • All laws related to Mental Health and Occupational Health and Safety be reviewed and consolidated to make them more relevant to modern trends in the industry. 
  • Professional associations and industry groups like the Chartered Institute of Building and the Ghana Real Estate Development Association improve their monitoring and supervisory roles to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.
  • Psychosocial counselling be integrated in the conditions of service of artisans employed in the construction sector. 1 in 4 people have experienced depression or anxiety, which means that you more than likely work alongside people living with mental ill health. It is crucial that employees with mental health conditions have the support they need to stay at or return to work. Employers can do this by accessing Workplace Rehabilitation services through an accredited provider in their local area. This will provide a window of opportunity to artisans in need of the service to access for their benefit and the collective benefits of the construction sector.
  • Construction stakeholders in collaboration with MMDAs and the national government should explore insurance and other support systems for artisans in the construction sector. This will provide a more secure life after they retire from work.
  • Organisations provide examples of workplace bullying and evidence based statistics on consequences.  Senior employees should be educated on how to mentor more vulnerable workers such as apprentices.
  • Tools and resources for workers to check in with themselves and manage their own wellbeing be provided. Employees and managers should also have the confidence to approach someone they may be concerned about, and have access to the right training and resources to manage these conversations.

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