More than two in five employees in the rail sector meet the clinical criteria for a mental health condition, according to a survey that also concluded the mental health of many within the sector has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.
The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) found that 43% of employees who responded to its survey, which ran in 2020 but was published this week, met the criteria needed for a mental health diagnosis.
It warned that employers in the sector should steer away from “gimmicks” such as yoga sessions and free fruit if they wanted to properly support workers.
Symptoms of depression were the most commonly reported, followed by anxiety. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents had depression scores in the moderate to severe range and 29% reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
Forty-one per cent said they had experienced a traumatic event. Seventy-four per cent of these employees said that some of the traumatic events they had experienced had been work-related.
One in 10 survey participants reported symptoms consistent with a clinical post-traumatic stress disorder, with 7% reporting symptoms consistent with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and 3% consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.
RSSB’s clinical psychologist Dr Michelle O’Sullivan said: “For the first time we’ve been able to measure the impact of rail industry work on mental health. The industry has demanding public-facing and safety-critical roles, with many employees experiencing increased pressure since Covid-19. Responding to disturbing and challenging situations is often part of those roles.
“Employers have a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to protect staff from the impact of such events. This research identifies key modifiable work factors that can ensure the rail industry is a great place to work.”
The RSSB said employers should focus on improving employee mental health via workplace factors they have direct influence over, including reaching out to staff with pre-existing mental health and physical conditions and ring-fencing time for line managers, union representatives and wellbeing champions to offer support.
Only half of survey participants sought help for a mental health concern and one in eight reported experiencing an incident at work where their poor mental health had been a factor.
Sickness absence in the industry was five times higher than the general population pre-Covid and six times higher than the general population during the pandemic.
The RSSB made several recommendations for employers, including:
- Improving the management of work-related violence, bullying, potentially traumatic incidents and stress.
- Facilitating good physical health, including assessing and addressing ergonomic and environmental health risks, and providing opportunities for exercise.
- Promoting positive social environments and reinforce the value of people’s work.
- Addressing excessive pressures associated with Covid-19, for example ensuring that staffing levels are sufficient.
- Targeting interventions for vulnerable employees.
- Providing support for people with a disability.
- Using local data to understand hotspots of mental or physical health issues within the organisation.
- Managing job insecurity by considering how messages about organisational changes are communicated.
- Cultivating the social value of rail, by regularly reporting on health and wellbeing activities, for example.
Some 3,912 rail sector employees took part in the survey, representing 31 organisations. Half of respondents were in a public-facing role.
The majority worked for passenger train operating companies, though some respondents worked in rail freight, infrastructure or the supply chain.