A new study has revealed that 86 per cent of tradespeople have been abused at work by customers, and a fifth have experienced abuse every day, and one in 10 have suffered physical attacks.

Construction Global reports that the study was commissioned by IronmongeryDirect, whose Mental Health in the Trades report revealed that customer tensions and abuse are among the main causes of stress, and that female tradespeople experience more regular abuse, but men are sexually harassed more often.

According to the findings, at 34 per cent, swearing and insults are the most common forms of abuse, while 10 per cent of tradespeople have experienced physical attacks from clients, and 7 per cent have been sexually harassed, and 14 per cent of respondents claim to have received aggressive text messages and phone calls outside of work.

This behaviour has led to 16 per cent of respondents saying they felt unsafe, and 13 per cent saying they felt threatened at work, while 12 per cent report feeling stressed, depressed, or suffering from anxiety because of abusive exchanges. 34 per cent of respondents report they experience abuse weekly.

There are some differences in the type of abuse received by male and female tradespeople. Women are more likely to be insulted or sworn at (37 per cent) or receive threatening text messages (18 per cent), but men are more likely to receive physical abuse (10 per cent) or sexual harassment (8 per cent).

Women are overall more regularly abused by customers, with 23 per cent reporting being mistreated every day, compared to 19 per cent of men.

Age also factors in, with younger tradespeople more likely to experience abuse. Gen-Z (18-24-year-olds) and Millennials (25-34-year-olds) experience the most insults, threats, and sexual remarks.

However, customers are most likely to threaten to withhold payment when it is an older tradesperson (over 65) in their home (16 per cent). 

Some trades experience more abuse than others. Over half (56 per cent ) of bricklayers experience abuse daily, while carpenters are more likely to be attacked (21 per cent), and plumbers receive the most sexual harassment (17 per cent).

The UK trades most likely to receive daily customer abuse are: 

1) Bricklayer – 56 per cent 

2) Builder – 24 per cent 

3) Plumber – 22 per cent 

4) Plasterer – 20 per cent 

5) Joiner – 20 per cent 

6) Building surveyor – 19 per cent 

7) Electrician – 19 per cent 

8) Carpenter – 16 per cent 

9) Painter decorator – 14 per cent 

10) Landscaper – 7 per cent 

However, there is some practical advice for tradespeople when dealing with confrontational customers and clients.

First, ask for specifics. Ensure you are hearing and understanding everything the customer is complaining about. Never assume anything and double-check that you know what they are referring to. Stay calm and genuine, and make a note of their sense of the problem.

Avoid raising your voice or further antagonising the customer, as this will only serve to escalate the situation. Often staying calm is enough to defuse a difficult situation, as the customer may back down after having their say.

The findings also agree with the latest research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which has outlined the scale of the mental health challenges facing the construction sector.

Site-based workers are at three times the risk of suicide than the national average. A report from May 2020 from the Chartered Institute of Building revealed that 26 per cent of construction workers had experienced suicidal thoughts, and 97 per cent have experienced stress over the previous 12 months.

The research from CITB has highlighted several initiatives to help with mental health in construction but has found that their impact has been restricted by a lack of coherent aim and messages.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has backed the research and has prioritised mental health in its recovery plan, and is now drawing on the industry to egress a plan to address it. It will seem to uncover the underlying causes of poor mental health and find better evidence of what impact the initiatives are having.

The culture within the industry has also perpetuated poor mental wellbeing, with factors such as working away from home, heavy workloads, and long hours. The problem can be aggravated by poor management practices and understanding, but some organisations are doing an exemplary job of looking after their workers.

There must also be an improvement in the love and quality of evidence. There is a range of different mental health and wellbeing support available from industry professional bodies, charities and employers. However, evidence of the effectiveness of the support available is limited.  

More consistent and accessible support is needed for workers in the smaller firms that supply larger ones. Many employers provide mental health and wellbeing support programmes to workers in their supply chains.

However, many workers are unaware that they can access mental health and wellbeing resources from their principal contractor.

CITB has invested in programmes aimed at helping the industry develop skills, behaviours and ways of working that will make it a safer, healthier place to work. Since June 2018 it has funded over 29,000 mental health courses. 

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