Mental health awareness in the construction industry is to be one of the priorities for the University of East London’s (UEL) Professor Charles Egbu as he starts his tenure as president of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) on 27 June.
Professor Egbu, who is pro vice-chancellor (education and experience) at UEL, said: “At UEL we offer a range of courses related to the construction industry – from construction management and civil engineering to architecture and surveying. In all cases, as part of our 10-year vision to create graduates fit for the future of work, we ensure that mental health is a pre-condition for their success. I wish to bring a similar focus on mental health to the jobs that already exist in construction.
“Sadly, 1,400 construction workers have been lost to suicide in the UK in the past four years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that the risk of suicide for low-skilled male construction workers was 3.7 times the national average and more than a quarter of construction employees have considered taking their own life.”
With mental health costing the construction industry around £70 billion a year Professor Egbu, who is taking over the CIOB’s one-year post of honorary president from Chris Soffe, wants to make sure that health and safety, and a positive, supportive environment, are top priority.
“The construction industry needs to promote and demonstrate examples of best practice,” he said. “The current poor mental health and well-being endemic within the industry calls for boldness and a new way of doing things. We need to be ready to challenge the “bad side” of this so-called “macho industry”, where construction personnel find it difficult to communicate how they feel, and at times their mental wellbeing position is ignored altogether.
“We at UEL are already leading the way in promoting awareness of mental health issues. Similarly, leaders in construction, those on construction sites and in the head offices, must take proactive, positive stances on mental health and wellbeing policies.”
Professor Egbu set out his five-point plan for making improvements during his term in office, dubbed PRIDE: Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Development and Equality.
With women making just 12% of the workforce in the construction industry, getting more women into the profession and raising the number of both women and ethnic minority people in construction management is also a priority, Professor Egbu noted.
“Building competence through research and all types of learning, and being inclusive in how we treat people, and in all the workplaces we create, are also vital to creating work environments that are truly inclusive and supportive,” he said.
Professor Egbu, who joined UEL in May this year, said of his new role, “I am absolutely delighted to take over this position. It is a privilege and honour to be the president of a great and proud institution. As we move to a more challenging environment in the construction industry I would like to stress the importance of training for the future and to recognise the impact of technological changes and artificial intelligence on a changing world. At UEL we are consciously focusing on industry 4.0 readiness to meet skills and competencies for tomorrow and this is something vital too for the future of the construction industry.”