Home / Features / First of a kind

First of a kind

ABM UK recently introduced an innovative mental health first aid training programme for its front line staff. Here, Chris Townsend, Senior HR Director at ABM UK explains why the rest of the FM industry needs to follow suit

The pandemic has brought the subject of mental health to the fore, more so than ever before in my opinion. In fact, you could refer to the subject as a pandemic in itself, and we need to respond to it.

Attitudes towards mental health and the stigmas surrounding it are changing, leaders are starting to adapt and some businesses are setting a good example. As a solutions-based sector, it’s only right that we demonstrate excellence and best practice; and at ABM, we are looking to do just that.

Crucially, we have introduced a mental health first aid training programme across our aviation and facility management business divisions. It’s one of the first of its kind in the industry and it will equip team members, such as security officers, train station cleaning teams and those working in airports and shopping centres, with the right skills when faced with difficult situations while working.

We began the rollout in March and the positive response was so overwhelming from those involved that we have invested further, training more team members.


As we emerge from an extremely challenging time and enter into a phased return to normality, we believe that this initiative has never been more important because our business has been, and continues to be, at the forefront of fighting COVID-19.

Since the global pandemic prompted a national lockdown in March last year we have been operating reactively across our facilities management and aviation divisions. The nature of our business means that our teams are working amongst the public every single day and we’re seeing first-hand the effect that the pandemic has had, and continues to have, on mental health.

But, we have an opportunity to play a positive role and help those people who are suffering. As charity organisation Mind states in its ‘Mental Health Emergency’ report, social distancing, lockdown, the loss of loved ones to the virus and the over-consumption of stress-inducing media reports is taking a huge toll on our mental health and wellbeing; and will continue to do so for some time. This is why we believe having trained personnel in mental health first aid across our industry, must be a priority.

Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It can present lots of difficult moments of crisis and unfortunately, suicide and self-harm are big problems and they must be treated carefully and compassionately.

Day-to-day, our teams on the ground should be able to identify those who are struggling with poor mental health; who may be dealing with critical, life-changing, situations; who may be at risk of harm to themselves. We have a duty to support our teams and provide them with the right skills and the necessary knowledge they need to manage these very difficult and sensitive situations.


The training programme we have introduced will not only prepare ABM teams for the difficult situations they may experience while working, but it also affords us the infrastructure to support our own people to process those difficult experiences and help with any other mental health challenges that they may be experiencing personally.

Our people have faced significant challenges of their own over the past year and the aviation sector in particular has been hit hard, which has meant that some team members have been on extended periods of furlough and may find returning to work difficult, which may fuel feelings of anxiety and worry. Being a business that is knowledgeable in mental health awareness with trained mental health first aiders means we can offer the right support and tools.

We have been working with TalkOut a market-leading change and development platform to create the training programme. With the support of our clients, we will be training more team members across our client’s sites and across all job roles. By the summer, 75 team members across our UK businesses will be trained in mental health first aid.

As our industry and the UK economy works towards recovery, we want our teams, our clients and the public to feel fully supported and ready to come back. We hope that by introducing this initiative we can lead by example and demonstrate a progressive step forward.

We’d love to see our peers follow suit and widen the access to support across the industry. Now, more than ever is the time to come together, help our people and recover from this past year stronger than ever, together.

About Sarah OBeirne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *