To mark the launch of Kier Highways fourth #SafetyInMind video Kier Highways maintenance operative Gary, discusses mental health issues he faced after an IPV strike at work and why the #SafetyInMind series is so important.
“I’ve been working as a highway maintenance operative for 12 years now and no part of my job has ever really frightened me, despite me working in some dangerous condition.
I think my colleagues would agree with me when I say I used to be known as the tough man around the depot. I have always been interested in keeping fit; I did kickboxing and weight training for years. Crying, panicking or just generally feeling stressed wasn’t me at all.
In October 2017, I was in an IPV protecting my colleagues while they were installing a taper in lane 3 of the M6. At around 8pm, a vehicle crashed straight into the IPV at 69mph, it all happened really quickly but I remember the IPV shunting forward. It did its job to protect the operatives in the road, but due to the crash, I sustained an injury and the ligaments in my neck, shoulder and lower spine were damaged.
I stayed off work for nearly a year while I recovered from my physical injuries. Mentally, I felt fine and no one around me noticed anything different in my behaviour during this time. I went back to work in August last year and was undertaking routine maintenance work when I pulled into a closure in a sweeper.
I started to feel anxious and panicked like I’ve never panicked before; I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I started crying – I learnt afterwards that I was having a panic attack. I didn’t realise I was still affected by the crash but being in a closure triggered my memory of that night. I felt weak, soft and stupid for crying – remember, I was the ‘tough man’ at work.
After this incident, I needed to take time off work. I saw a counsellor who diagnosed me with anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which had been triggered by the IPV strike. I’m 53 with a wife and two grown-up children to look after, I didn’t want to be the man who broke down at work and needed to take time off, but this incident made me realise that everyone has a breaking point. My reaction was normal considering the traumatic situation I had been in and I needed to give myself time to heal, not just physically, but mentally.
I’m back at work now and feeling much better, I do still have worries about getting back in an IPV and haven’t been in one since, but maybe in time I’ll be able to. My managers and colleagues have been really supportive and I’m so grateful to them for this. I now feel able to speak up and say when something doesn’t feel right, instead of suffering in silence.
I do think there is more the industry needs to do when it comes to mental health amongst people in construction. We need to encourage open conversation and that’s why it’s great that Kier Highways is promoting this issue in its #SafetyInMind series & with implementing Mental health First Aiders in the business. We all need to keep an eye on our colleagues and look out for their mental wellbeing and remember that often the person that needs help is the one to recognise it last.”