One construction worker dies by suicide every two days. Construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than in a workplace accident. Men in the construction industry are 53 per cent more likely to die by suicide than other employed males in Australia.
These are the sobering statistics for an industry that has endured the highs and lows of Covid-19—but researchers at University of South Australia are lifting the lid on the issue to drive change and turn the tide.
University of South Australia lead researcher Simon Tyler said he had identified 26 potential drivers of suicide for construction industry workers.
“Part of the problem resides in the industry itself—it’s highly transient, with most workers employed on a project-by-project basis—so there’s little opportunity for workers to build workplace supports or friendships,” Tyler said.
“Another issue is persistent stereotypical concepts of masculinity, which can have a big impact on mental health … such unhelpful masculine attitudes and behaviours can result in negative outcomes, such as bullying, which can escalate over time.
“By examining these and other potential stressors in the sector, including work hours, job demands and legislations, we hope to develop best practice approaches to reduce rates of suicide.”
Mates in Construction is supporting the research to help identify interventions that could stem the flow of deaths by suicide in the construction sector.
Mates in Construction was established in 2008 in response to a report into suicides in the Queensland construction sector.
It provides training and a 24-7 helpline, aimed at intervention and improving the mental health and wellbeing of workers, and it says “everyone in the industry must play their part”.
UniSA senior researcher Professor Nicholas Procter, an expert in mental health and suicide prevention, said it was time to shine the light on the serious issues affecting construction industry workers on RUOK Day and on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day.
“We can have so many touchpoints—at home, at work, even in a casual conversation with a person we may meet for just a brief period,” Procter said.
“But by making the most of various touchpoints we might just give some support to a person in distress.
“Suicide prevention is best achieved when individuals and communities play a part in understanding and responding to a person in need.”
University of New South Wales is in the midst of a two-year research project studying the Roberts Co workforce on the $341-million Concord Hospital redevelopment project.
The Project 5: A Weekend for Every Worker research is focused on the impact of a non-traditional five-day work week on construction workers.
Australian Human Rights Institute postdoctoral fellow Dr Natalie Galea is leading the interdisciplinary research team, who are interviewing workers and their families on the sum benefits of the five-day work week.
“It doesn’t sound like huge change, but it’s significant for a sector where working Saturdays, and increasingly Sundays, is deeply entrenched,” Galea said.
“This research aims to understand more about how existing work practices impact the health and wellbeing of construction workers and their families.”
The construction sector is Australia's third largest after mining and finance. It produces around 8 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product and encompasses more than 330,000 businesses.
The sector directly employs more than a million people—around 9 per cent of Australia’s total workforce.
Mates in Construction: 1300 642 111
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