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The Benefits of Safeguarding Mental Health across your Supply Chain

Every business that uses third party contractors or suppliers will understand the importance – and challenge – of managing health and safety across its supply chain…

Making sure you only work with organisations that adhere to SSIP standards is usually the best way to do this; with certification offering you a low cost, low hassle way of checking that your supply chain partners are health and safety compliant. What businesses might be less aware of is the role that mental health plays in the overall health and safety culture of its operations. All employers have a legal obligation to monitor risk and put protective measures in place against mental health issues[1], just as they do for physical health issues. They also have legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments when employing people with pre-existing mental health problems, just as they do for any type of disability – and most comply with their obligations. But beyond this, many do little towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of their workers, despite it offering several significant commercial benefits.

The wellbeing of your workforce can impact productivity, profitability and reputation; effectively shaping perceptions of your business and playing a part in your overall success. It’s something which Emma Head, HS2 Ltd’s Safety and Assurance Director understands. She is recently quoted as saying,“As an industry we rightly shout about safety, but whisper about wellbeing and mental health.”[2]

HS2 is the largest infrastructure project in Europe. It already supports 7,000 jobs across 60 sites between Birmingham and London and expects to support 30,000 jobs by around 2023. As business leaders, HS2 Ltd want to set new standards for health and safety which will protect workers right across the supply chain, as well as the general public. They’ve recently unveiled seven new principles, which they expect all of the companies they work with to adhere to, and which they hope will create a legacy of new standards for their industry. Key amongst these is workforce health and wellbeing.

The financial cost of poor mental health

One in four people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives[3].  Add this fact to figures from the HSE[4] which tell us that mental health issues resulted in 11.7 million working days lost in 2015/16 and a cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion (through presenteeism, low productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover) and it becomes easy to see how setting new supply chain standards on wellbeing has the potential to deliver bottom line benefits for your business. If more businesses follow the examples being set by HS2 Ltd, it also has the power to significantly impact the health of our UK economy as a whole. Speaking at the Mad World conference in London in 2018, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable quoted figures from the previous year’s Stevenson/Farmer review[5] on mental health, which revealed mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion per year; much more than the cost of Brexit[6].

Of course, the cost of poor mental health is much more than simply financial. It’s a shocking fact that the suicide rate among low-skilled male labourers is three times higher than the national average for men[7]. Businesses who use large numbers of short-term contractors and 2nd-tier suppliers therefore have a particular responsibility to look for evidence of good practice across their supply chain when it comes to wellbeing – an issue which brings even greater responsibility when aggravated by the problems of modern slavery.

Taking action on wellbeing

So, what can businesses do to build a culture of health and wellbeing across their supply chain? While each situation is unique and will require a tailored approach to mental health management, the ‘mental health core standards’ laid out by the Thriving at Work[8] report provides a strong starting point.

The report includes a comprehensive best practice guide for employers who want to raise standards of mental health protection in their workplace. The standards it sets out require employers to:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan.
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees.
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors.
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

As with all good health and safety practice, the key to successful action on wellbeing will begin with regulatory compliance and include a robust plan, well communicated. Setting standards and communicating expectations across your supply chain sends a clear message that your business takes mental health and wellbeing seriously. Those businesses who lead the way and endeavour to raise standards of mental health, as well as physical health and safety, will undoubtedly reap the rewards brought by a more motivated and productive workforce.









Best practice guide to supply chain compliance now available as a free download.