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A bloke like me

Posted: 7th April 2021

Ray Bone
Managing Director - ABBEY
President Elect - The Association for Project Safety

My name is Ray Bone. Some of you may know me and be familiar with the Association for Project Safety. I’m the next in line to be the association’s President and I’ve been working in design and construction risk management – the APS’s core purpose – for longer than my youthful good looks would have you believe.

I’m known to be a straight-talking sort of person and I’m not going to beat about the bush when I say the construction industry needs to step up and we all need to take better care of one another. The industry’s not got the best reputation for looking after its people – despite all the work and good intentions across the country. It’s high time we got a grip on mental health in the workplace as it’s probably killing more people than falls and accidents and breathing in dust put together.

There are things in life that’ll give you nightmares long after they’ve happened. I was a fireman for nine years before I came to work in construction so, maybe, I know more than most about how people react in macho industries where you don’t want to look like a softie in front of your mates.

We all had ways of coping with the things we saw – the camaraderie was great and black humour was common. But, for some, there were destructive distractions too. It’s all too easy for that single malt helping you sleep grow into a bottle-a-day dependency. The online flutter at four in the morning - after you’ve witnessed the death of a child - turn into an addiction that puts your home at risk. And the continual stress of call-outs and casualties tip into depression. I’ve seen many people go down those roads - and it’s not always the guys you think who’ll suffer.

Mental health is a difficult topic to broach, especially in a sector - like construction - where there’s an imbalance of men working together, people are often away from home for long periods and no one wants to appear weak. And it’s not like construction has the world’s best reputation for its work practices – I get involved with loads of investigations for the HSE and, believe me, I’ve seen the lot.

But - bad practice apart - the enemy is, mostly, within.

My old employer, the fire service, is brilliant at offering help and counselling – people just aren’t so good at taking it up. There are times when saying no to help just makes you your own worst enemy. Take if from someone who once spent a very dark night hunting for the head of a man decapitated in a car crash: I’ve been there. We’d all sit around when the counselling was being offered - trying to look like we were sleeping right and eating properly - and, right there in front of our crew, we’d all say we were doing fine.

We were lying – to our employer, our colleagues, our families - and to ourselves.

That’s why, when I was asked to host the APS’s Spring conference Building the future of workplace mental health I jumped at the opportunity. I know what’s it’s like to turn down support when I needed it and I am determined to speak out now – especially after the year we’ve had – to do what I can to help others - and to help businesses spot the signs of someone struggling before, as they used to say in the adverts, a problem becomes a crisis.

APS would like to invite you to come along to Building the future of workplace mental health on Wednesday 12 May 2021.

The APS’s first ever one-day mental health conference is going to take a very positive look at it all. If it makes it any easier it’s online so no one - except our booking system – even needs know you’ve come along. Anyway, it’s not going to be gloom and doom. APS is bringing together people from construction to talk about what‘s worked for them and to hear from people running successful programmes that offer a beacon of hope for people in crisis.

APS is putting on the event with Mates in Mind and we’ll have someone there from the Lighthouse Club so you can see we are serious about getting people all the help that’s out there. You’ll also hear from experts dealing first-hand with some of the things that tip people over the edge – specialists in addiction recovery and debt management. And you’ll get it direct from people who have survived the worst the industry can throw at them - and survived not just to tell the tale but to help us all improve how we work.

Mental health problems can happen to anyone. I know it can be awkward to start those conversations but, if we would just spend a fraction of the time and energy that goes into the splints and bandages, the pills and the potions, we’d all be better off. Poor mental health – and the practices that get us there – can be as bad for business as they are for the workers. But think about it: no one is immune – even if most of us are now vaccinated. If a bloke like me can open up, then we have a real chance of building a better future for workplace mental health for everyone.

Contributor: Ray Bone is Managing Director of ABBEY and the Preseident Elect of the Assosiation for Project Safety (APS)