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Inspirational Young Females in Construction

Niamh Hume and JMAC Group's Elle Payne with Hartlepool College of Further Education Principal Darren Hankey. Picture: HCFE
Niamh Hume and JMAC Group's Elle Payne with Hartlepool College of Further Education Principal Darren Hankey. Picture: HCFE

Two young female apprentices have produced “ground-breaking work” aimed at preventing people from taking their own lives in the construction industry. Elle Payne and Niamh Hume have led important mental health initiatives within their companies, introducing a mental health first aid room and mental health incentives to JMAC Group and STRABAG’s Hartlepool site, respectively, as part of placements from the College.

The Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) technicians feel it is their moral duty in their roles to focus on that area having become aware of worrying statistics. The moves are designed to help reduce much-publicised figures, such as how men are three times more likely to die by suicide in the construction industry than the national average for men.

College Lecturer Cliff Down, who has specific responsibility for the SHE technicians, said: “Elle and Niamh deserve enormous credit for concentrating on such a topical subject like suicide and mental health in the construction industry. I’d like construction workers to see their work because they are showing that barriers in the tough and physically demanding world of construction can be broken down and you can get help when you need it. Elle and Niamh are on work-based apprenticeships working their way through certain topics to gather a portfolio of evidence. While doing this they are concentrating on projects at their respective JMAC and STRABAG sites to help improve such areas of the business.”

Elle, a former Dyke House College student, has created a mental health first aid room at JMAC’s Stockton-on-Tees headquarters and placed awareness posters on walls. She is determined to make a difference.     

The 22-year-old said: “Covid and the cost-of-living crisis have caused people a lot of added stress, and anxiety and impacted mental health massively. You are at work for the majority of your time so it is important for people to be able to focus on their jobs without the added pressure and stress other things outside of work can bring. We already know that a large number of workers in construction suffer from mental ill-health, as shown by many industry statistics. It is my job as a health and safety technician to protect employees from harm whether that be their mental or physical well-being. At JMAC we wish for all employees to return home safely to their families each night. It’s a male-dominated industry and sometimes they find it harder to open up. Knowing that you’ve done what you possibly can keep people safe at work is a rewarding feeling.”

Elle and Niamh want to break the stigma around mental health with the aim to get people talking more – and they discuss ideas with other SHE technicians enrolled here at College

Niamh, a former English Martyrs student, has worked hard to put things in place where employees can feel comfortable chatting and looking for help at work since starting her role at STRABAG last summer. The 23-year-old said: “I wanted to look at ways to help mental health in the workplace because of what I have experienced too on a personal level. A father figure to me took his own life, a few years ago so I know how important it is for people to have help available. He worked in the construction industry in some capacity. It is easy for people to focus on problems. But you can work with people to find solutions – and at work, it can create a more positive workplace generally. I am passionate about encouraging and supporting women who wish to work in construction, and I feel they have the potential to make a very positive contribution to this interesting and exciting industry. At STRABAG we have already implemented a few ideas. We had Andy’s ManClub (a men’s suicide prevention charity) the other day. They showed what they can do to support people on site. They do regular talks and I encourage people to go along. We also have mental health first aiders. We are recommending our workers go to see them talk. It’s all about people becoming more comfortable in talking about their situations and it’s been nice to play a part in developing that for STRABAG.”



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