Mental health first aid in the electrical sector

Paul Williams, Electrical Contractors Association's Health & Safety Manager and Mental First Aid 'Train the Trainer', talks about poor mental health and how electrical contractors are stepping up support...

Paul Williams, ECA Health & Safety Manager and Mental First Aid ‘Train the Trainer’.

With the rising incidence of mental health problems during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s worth remembering that mental health issues, which can range from stress to anxiety and severe depression, can affect managers and other employees alike, and the impacts can very quickly affect families. 

Over 85% of the construction workforce is male and over 50% of the sector is made up of self-employed, agency staff or zero-hour contract workers – consistently noted as some of the most stressful working arrangements in the economy. 

In the face of this considerable challenge, many large engineering services businesses have increased their mental health support. A Covid-19 Impact survey commissioned by ECA showed nine out of 10 large electrical and other engineering services businesses (89%) now train teams of staff as Mental Health First Aiders. These findings were part of a wider benchmarking survey of larger ECA Members on the impact of Covid-19, completed by 24 of the largest engineering services firms in the UK, with a combined turnover of several billion pounds. 

Almost half of those responding to this survey went on to mention “communication,” or “workplace stigma and perceptions” as challenges to managing mental health. Around a third of respondents referred to the difficulty of measuring outcomes, both in terms of improved mental health and quantifying the return on investment in mental health support measures. 

Philip Hamblett, Contract Manager at N Smith Electrical, was one of the first to take the Mental Health First Aider course delivered by ECA. Over the last year, 20 of the firm’s employees were furloughed and on their return to work, Philip spoke to each employee individually. 

He said, “A lot of younger staff communicate by text rather than speaking with people. This is not good if they have an issue concerning them, as they do not discuss it. By meeting them separately, it gave me the chance to check they were OK and also the chance to discuss any concerns about the pandemic, be it working on site and ensuring site safety; or discussing the loss of a friend or loved one.” 

The road ahead… 
For many, the coronavirus crisis has worsened isolation, affected working hours, sleep and exercise patterns and increased job uncertainty. Against this backdrop, it’s encouraging to see contractors reporting significant and increasing engagement with employee mental health. Perhaps the main progress to date is to recognise that this is a widespread, not exceptional issue, that can and should be more openly talked about. The way forward – now and in the future – cannot be to simply tell someone to ‘man up’. There are now plenty of sources of support and advice helping to address mental health issues – including not doing the things which can make it worse – which can provide massive benefits for employees and business alike. 

For more information regarding the support and benefits on offer to ECA Members, visit: