Australia’s construction industry employs more than 625,000 workers- or almost 10% of the working population – making it one of the country’s biggest employers. Unfortunately this industry is also one of the hardest hit when talking about mental health.

In fact the newest research and statistics by MATES in Construction and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) show that construction workers are more than twice as likely to suicide as other people in Australia, and are six times more likely to die by suicide than through a workplace accident. On average a total of 190 construction workers take their own life every year, equating to a suicide every second day.

So how come an industry that seems to be thriving has such shocking mental health statistics? Experts have suggested that it has to do with the long hours many workers clock up, often across 6-day workweeks, and the lack of job security with many being employed on a project-by-project basis, for periods ranging from a few weeks to at best a few years.

Research has also shown that working in such a male dominated industry has led to workers finding it difficult to discuss feelings and emotions with colleagues, and that they carry the burden and stresses of traditional gender roles like being the breadwinner at home and ensuring that they are viewed as ‘manly’ by their peers. There are now concerns that the effects and fallout of COVID-19 will only add to these pressures and cause further harm to construction workers.

COVID-19 has caused significant delays in the supply of building materials from both local and overseas suppliers, which has been compounded by increase in work from the federal government’s HomeBuilder scheme. Construction workers are under added pressure by the availability of labour, price increases across the supply chain, and time constraints as per conditions of the scheme.

There’s now real concern that these added pressures will cause construction workers to burn out even further, and cause an industry downhill when the scheme is finished. So what can we do to protect our construction workers and ensure that their mental health is looked after?

MATES in Construction are paving the way for change within the industry and in 2018 they released The Australian Building and Construction Industry Blueprint for Better Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. The blue print offers an integrated, multi-pronged approach to create healthier workplaces through 5 main principles:

  1. Reduce harmful impacts of work
  2. Provide mental health and suicide prevention literacy
  3. Facilitate early intervention and treatment
  4. Provide return-to-work and ongoing support
  5. Promote work’s positive impact on mental health

MATES also provide field staff to train workers in the workplace to improve mental health and suicide prevention literacy, increase help seeking and help offering, and engage the workforce in creating a mentally healthy workplace. They also offer support line and case management to workers who need help and support.

If your concerned about your own mental health, or that of a colleague we encourage you to reach out to MATES on 1300 642 111.