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The construction sector’s contribution to the world’s GDP stands at almost 15% in 2019 and provided various livelihood opportunities along its value chain. In fact, it is anticipated that the sector will experience the fastest growth in Sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to the rest of the world by 2022. With such an optimistic forecast, we are not oblivious to the fact that challenges exist within the sector that need to be addressed. One such pervasive challenge is the inadequate attention to the mental health of actors within this sector.  In line with this year’s World Mental Health Day’s theme: Focus on Suicide Prevention, Ghana in particular and the world in general must adopt a more intentional approach to addressing the menace of suicide that plagues actors within the construction sector.

Data from a number of industrialized countries shows that construction workers are three to four times more likely than other workers to die from accidents at work or suffer other serious health conditions. Ghana’s construction industry holds the staggering statistic for being in the top occupation at risk for suicide, yet the stigma surrounding mental health on and off site often means sufferers deal with the pain in silence, and lock it in until it festers into something more severe.

Undoubtedly, the construction industry lifestyle is both challenging and stressful. Long and demanding working hours away from home for several weeks at a time; low remuneration; harsh working conditions and the lingering unease in the industry are just some of the factors contributing to poor mental health and safety in the industry.

Although several laws governing the construction industry such as the Factories, Offices and Shops Act, 1970 (Act 328), Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651), and Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1987 (PNDC 187) require firms to make sure that there is proper work health and safety administration on site, observational and anecdotal evidence suggest that this is not always the case particularly on small scale projects that are usually domestically owned.
 
The sometimes harsh conditions under which these artisans work include the lack of welfare facilities such as safety first aid appliance, good drinking water, sanitation amenities and other work facilities such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Even where they are provided, they do not always come with the full complement and authorities do not enforce regulations on the use of these safety gears.

Furthermore, being a workforce that is predominantly male, the “tough guy” image which is widespread in the construction industry is very much to blame for the little to no attention given to mental wellbeing. Asking for help and opening up about emotions are just not things that come naturally to many of those working in the industry. The combination of these factors results in many suffering in silence.

Consequently, the construction industry which is usually made up of young males between 17 and 45 years who have had little or no education have one of the highest incidences of suicide and other depression-related tendencies. Indeed studies have found that persons in occupations that do not require any further academic education after basic school are at a higher risk of suicide and other conditions that affect their mood, such as depression.

In 2012, Ghana passed a new Mental Health Act, to revamp mental health care in Ghana. The Act serves to create a system that provides effective mental healthcare as well as protect those who struggle with mental health issues. This is a step in the right direction and would further recommend that:

  • There should be a deliberate consciousness to strike a work-life balance. It must not be business as usual. Clients must not always award contracts to the contractors with the lowest price bid. There must be rigorous scrutiny of firms or individual artisans’ H&S records as part of the qualification criteria for award of contract. This will make construction more humane.
  • All laws related to Mental Health and Occupational Health and Safety be reviewed and consolidated to make them more relevant to modern trends in the industry. 
  • Professional associations and industry groups like the Chartered Institute of Building and the Ghana Real Estate Development Association improve their monitoring and supervisory roles to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.
  • Psychosocial counselling be integrated in the conditions of service of artisans employed in the construction sector. 1 in 4 people have experienced depression or anxiety, which means that you more than likely work alongside people living with mental ill health. It is crucial that employees with mental health conditions have the support they need to stay at or return to work. Employers can do this by accessing Workplace Rehabilitation services through an accredited provider in their local area. This will provide a window of opportunity to artisans in need of the service to access for their benefit and the collective benefits of the construction sector.
  • Construction stakeholders in collaboration with MMDAs and the national government should explore insurance and other support systems for artisans in the construction sector. This will provide a more secure life after they retire from work.
  • Organisations provide examples of workplace bullying and evidence based statistics on consequences.  Senior employees should be educated on how to mentor more vulnerable workers such as apprentices.
  • Tools and resources for workers to check in with themselves and manage their own wellbeing be provided. Employees and managers should also have the confidence to approach someone they may be concerned about, and have access to the right training and resources to manage these conversations.

Global Communities, on Wednesday June 26 2019, commissioned a Small Town Water System in Tuna, a community with over 80,000 residents, in the Savannah Region of Ghana. This facility was constructed under the USAID-funded WASH for Health project. The event which took place on the Tuna St. Peter Basic School park, was graced with the presence of Keisha Effiom, the Supervisory Regional Contracting Officer of USAID.

The commissioning of the Tuna Water System by Keisha Effiom, the Supervisory Regional
Contracting Officer, assisted by Mr. Lawal Tamimu, the District Chief Executive of Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District

Before the intervention, Tuna had 16 boreholes, most of which dry up during the dry season and were in deplorable states, this led the people to resort to hand-dug wells, streams and dams as their source of water. The facility consist of a Water Board Office, a pump-house, a storage tank and 15 standpipes scattered across the community, including three schools. This new Water System involves the mechanization of two borehole sources that yields a total of 13,800 liters of water per hour; a 12-meter-high-level water storage tank with a capacity of 100,000 liters is situated at the highest point of the community. The positioning of the water storage tank allows water to be distributed under gravity to the 12 public water standpipes situated at strategic locations within the community and the three additional standpipes to three basic schools. The system is mainly powered by the hydro-electricity power and a back-up solar power source. The daily maintenance of the facility will be overseen by a trained Water and Sanitation Management Team (WSMT).

The 100,000 liter-water-capacity elevated storage tank

 

Dignitaries at the pump-house with back-up solar panel 

The District was also presented with 145 honor certificates to communities who have attained an Open Defecation Free (ODF) status, during the ceremony. A total of 245 communities have been declared ODF. The Global Communities’ WASH team is working tirelessly to assist the whole District attain an ODF status. Another feather in the cup of the District is being attaining the fourth position of the top 10 districts with ODF coverage on the 2018/19 District ODF League Table, from the eighth position last year.

Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP) for WASH for Health giving a speech

 

With the facility fully functional, it is envisaged that community water supply will be improved, leading to a reduction in WASH related diseases and an increase in the socio-economic status of the community. Global Communities appreciates the support of USAID, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources, the Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District and all stakeholders for translating the dream of this water system into a reality.

Enoch Asuman is a physically-challenged sanitation champion spearheading the eradication of open defecation in his community, Kwaku Ninsin, located in the Asikuma Odoben Brakwa District in the Central region of Ghana. Like many other open defecation free (ODF) communities, Kwaku Ninsin practiced open defecation until the USAID-funded WASH for Health project team initiated the ODF implementation process. Since the initiation of the process, Enoch has personally rallied his community behind the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) team to ensure the community adopt safer sanitation practices.

 

Enoch Asuman by his household latrine

 

The 50-year-old man was made the chairman of the Natural Leaders in his community due to his unquestionable commitment to ending the practice of open defecation. Despite his physical disabilities, he leads the CLTS team to remote areas in the community to initiate the ODF process. His influence has translated into majority of the 592 community members, including the local leaders, accepting and adopting proper sanitation practices such as building household latrines, cleaning of the environment, and safely disposing of refuse.

 

Enoch with some residents on a concrete slab he constructed

This altruistic family man of four children, constructs the concrete slabs for the latrines at no cost, provided the construction materials are available. Agya Kwaku, a beneficiary of a latrine constructed with the assistance of Enoch, is awed by his commitment to improving sanitation in their community. “But for his assistance, my family and I did not have this facility. We feel more comfortable attending nature’s call a few steps away from our house, especially at night. Previously, it we had to risk attending nature’s call at night in the bush,” Agya Kwaku said.

As a small-scale farmer, Enoch must spend long hours planting and weeding his fields, but he does not let these time constraints deter him from championing the sanitation agenda. He personally visits individual homes to encourage them to build latrines in order to attain an ODF status. According to Enoch, “My sole aim for championing this course is two-fold: to make the community clean leading to the prevention of diseases, and to enable us attain and ODF status by the end of December, 2018.”

Enoch cleaning his compound

 

Within two months of initiation, the community has attained an ODF basic status. This means feces are disposed of appropriately, so there are no visible signs of human or animal feces. To attain full ODF status by Enoch’s timeline, all households must have access to and use latrines. Additionally, 80% of households must have their own latrine and residents must increase handwashing practices at critical times of the day.

 

Enoch taking the lead

Word of his activities has spread to neighboring communities, motivating them to practice improved hygiene behaviors. Based on the example set by Enoch’s community, a couple of households in the neighboring town have begun constructing household latrines as well. Enoch has started advising other communities still practicing open defecation to improve their sanitation practices as well encouraging every family to construct a their own household latrine.

 

 

 “Exactly ten years ago since the Global Handwashing Day was launched, Ghana has realized a 30% increase in handwashing practices,” according to Ing. Worlanyo Siabi, Chief Executive of the Community Water and Sanitation Agency. He went on to explain that despite these gains in increased handwashing, communities in Ghana still have a long way to go. According to UNICEF, more than 10,000 children in Ghana die each year from preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. Handwashing could reduce these diseases up to 50%, yet less than 15% of Ghanaian households have handwashing facilities.

That is why this year’s theme for Global Handwashing Day—Clean Hands, a Recipe for Health—is so important. Global Handwashing Day is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

With support from USAID and Global Communities, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources commemorated the day at Agbogloshie market. Located in the heart of Accra, the market is one of the city’s major trading centers and notorious for its unsanitary conditions. Madam Cecilia Dapaah, the Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources, and other speakers took the opportunity to drum home the importance of handwashing to market vendors, the majority of whom are food handlers. 

Students taking turns to demonstrate effective handwashing

 

Other speakers included Mr. Mohammed Adjei Sowah, the Chief Executive of Accra Metropolitan Assembly, as well as representatives from USAID and Global Communities. The Minister stressed on the need to “adopt the habit of automatic hand washing at critical times.” 

Kitchen staff and pupils at the Tema event

At the same time, a similar event was taking place at the Manhean Anglican Primary in Tema.  Dr. Nana A. Konadu Darko, the Senior Medical Officer of Manhean Health Center, reminded the school kitchen staff about the importance of hygiene in reducing the spread of infections.

Skit by Agbogbloshie market vendors

Both events featured skits and plays extolling the importance of handwashing and hygiene performed by vendors and students. In Agbogbloshie, Global Communities was recognized for its consistent supporter of handwashing promotion. In Tema the day culminated with a chorus of students singing a song about handwashing.

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