Mark Starling is a Kier safety, health and environmental manager. He is also one of 330 Mental Health First Aiders at Kier. Here, Mark explains why Mental Health First Aid training is so important and what we can do to encourage others to talk about their mental health at work. 

“I have worked in the construction industry for nearly 25 years, with 12 of those years spent at Kier as a safety, health and environmental manager. When I first started out in construction, site safety was on everyone’s agenda, but it’s fair to say it’s moved so much since then and continued to improve with people realising how important it is to stay safe on site.

The shift in caring for people’s physical safety has been a positive one to see and, in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed another shift – people at work are more aware of mental health and well-being is as important as physical health, we need to look after the mind not just the body.  

Males working in the construction industry are three times more likely to complete suicide than the average UK male[1] and between 2011 and 2015 of the 13,232 in-work suicides recorded, those within the construction sector made up 13.2%[2]. These statistics are shocking and after learning more about this I knew I wanted to be involved in something that made a difference.

Kier introduced Mental Health First Aiders in 2018 and runs a course conducted by Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA). The course is internationally recognised and designed to teach people how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis. Employers promoting the course encourages people to talk more freely about mental health, reduces any stigma and creates a more positive culture.

Since starting this course, 330 members of the Kier workforce have been trained. I knew I wanted to get involved in this and opted to do a full weeks training allowing me to then run training sessions for other people.

At Kier, we know it is not only important for us to train our immediate Kier colleagues, but also our supply chain as this is an industry-wide issue and something that should be addressed as such. I’m immensely proud to work for Kier, but when I run these courses I don’t introduce myself as a ‘Kier employee’, I introduce myself as ‘Mark’, everyone is equal on the course and should feel open to share any personal stories throughout the day.

After doing the course I wanted to ensure I was doing something on the sites I work on to encourage people to come and talk to me if they need to. I didn’t want to be pushy or invasive, so I’ve implemented ‘Time to Talk’ sessions on our sites and workplaces. People on site know they can come to thesesessions and have a cup of tea, they don’t need to talk about anything specific and I won’t push them, but it gives them an hour to clear their head if they need to, and, if they want to get something off their chest they can.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, every day we ran half an hour stretch and flex sessions for contractors working at the King’s Cross redevelopment area. This gave everyone some time at the start of the day to have for themselves. It proved hugely popular with up to 150 attendees attending the sessions.

Mental Health First Aiders are not trained counsellors or psychologists, but they do have a deeper understanding of the issues that impact on, and relate to, people’s mental health. They give someone the opportunity to reach out at work - whether that be a cup of tea or a chat in a quiet space. It’s a confidential chat and without judgement, taking the time to do this can go a long way for someone’s mental wellbeing.

I’m proud of the industry for starting to promote wellbeing and for opening up about mental health issues. You can tell who is a MHFA from their lime green lanyard, I want to promote this across the industry so if anyone working in it has something weighing down on them they know where they can go for a chat – let’s spread the word and protect the wellbeing of our workforce together.”

[1] https://www.ukconstructionmedia.co.uk/features/mental-health-construction-industry/

[2] https://www.ukconstructionmedia.co.uk/features/mental-health-construction-industry/

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