News Oct 10, 2018

UK Rail Leaders Lay Foundations for Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing

On World Mental Health Day 2018 (10 October), HSRIL (High Speed Rail Industry Leaders), which supports and champions high-speed rail in Britain, has committed to a new charter to promote a step change in supporting positive mental health and wellbeing. Launching the charter and report, "Laying the foundations for positive mental health and wellbeing", HSRIL is leading an ambition to promote awareness and action on mental health and wellbeing through the delivery of High Speed 2, the biggest rail investment and construction program in the U.K. in decades.

The scale of HS2 creates the opportunity to lead a transformation in support for positive mental health and wellbeing in the rail and construction sectors and beyond. This includes addressing mental health and wellbeing in working environments for those constructing HS2 and communities where construction takes place, as well as how the railway operates for staff and passengers, designing for wellbeing from the start. 

Whilst the U.K. is one of the world’s safest railways1, the industry recognizes more progress must be made to achieve positive mental health and wellbeing. The U.K. construction and building sector represents 11 per cent of more than 13,000 workplace suicides each year, one of the highest rates among the professions. 2  All but ten of these suicides in the sector were men, with two-thirds of those aged over 40.3  Mental ill health accounts for four times as many days lost than safety related injuries.4

The HSRIL report draws on innovations and approaches that HSRIL members have put in place or are developing and which lay the foundations for a commitment to a step-change and new industry standard in the U.K.:

  • Creating a culture of openness including through role play sessions to enable conversations about mental health and to counter the stigma and taboos, which particularly affects men
  • Establishing mental health first aiders and champions in the workplace to signpost support
  • Treating mental health on par with physical health and agreeing a step change in approach led from the top of organizations
  • Proactive and preventative approaches to mental health and wellbeing
  • Changing the nature of construction through manufacturing centers with less dangerous site work needed as a result; and designing out future problems such as destressing environments
  • Supporting national mental health awareness events and campaigns
  • Establishing employment assistant programs to support employees as well as their families
  • Developing fitness and nutrition schemes, not just treating ill health but seeking prevention, leading to less surgery and quicker recovery times
  • Engaging staff in activity to support positive mental health as well as supporting positive forms of engagement in the workplace
  • Enabling young employees to develop communication and soft skills to address low confidence that can lead to stress, anxiety and a dissatisfied work life

“Mental health is rightly receiving much more attention around the need to change the conversation and do more to support mental wellbeing,” said HSRIL Board member and Jacobs Client Account Director for Rail Solutions, John Downer. “As a rail industry, through the delivery of HS2, our members can support a step change in how we support positive mental ill health and wellbeing. Our industry has real challenges to face but HS2 enables us to set a new standard. Just as the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 were the safest ever constructed, so too must we build the safest high-speed railway supporting positive mental health and wellbeing at its heart, not just in construction but in every aspect of the program.”

“In 2016, Jacobs launched our mental health matters strategy, which grew out of our safety program, BeyondZero©, with all staff making safety a personal value that extends outside the office walls, beyond the project site and into our travel, homes and communities,” said Jacobs Senior Vice President Catriona Schmolke.  “The promotion of mental health in the workplace is a natural extension of this culture, helping our staff understand, protect and sustain their mental wellbeing.”

“To support this, we introduced positive mental health champions and designed a special program around recognizing and managing stress,” added Schmolke. “Our champions make a difference in fundamental ways - they promote positive mental health, raise awareness and break down the stigma associated with mental health conversations. Champions are available for staff to talk to and trained to direct staff to appropriate professional healthcare when necessary.”

Jacobs is a member of HSRIL – a coalition of industry experts who have helped deliver major infrastructure projects in the U.K. and around the world, ranging from creating entirely new high-speed networks through to maintaining and improving the U.K.’s existing rail network.

Rail Standards and Safety Board 2016 
2&3 ONS, Suicide by Occupation, England: 2011 to 2015  Work-related ill health accounted for 82 per cent, or 25.7 million days lost, compared with 18 per cent or 5.5 million days
Health and Safety Executive website Working Days Lost, 26 October 2017 

Read the HSRIL Report