Mental health push for construction industry

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Construction industry workers are the focus of two separate mental health research studies now underway

Improving mental health among construction workers is the aim of two separate research projects.

The University of South Australia (UniSA) and Master Builders ACT have each revealed plans to research the issue, prompted by R U OK Day (which was on September 9), industry shutdowns caused by the COVID- 19 pandemic and broader concerns about suicide among construction workers.

The UniSA research aims to find the reasons behind high suicide rates in the construction industry and is supported by industry body MATES in Construction and that organisation’s Alison Milner Memorial Scholarship.

PhD candidate and lead researcher Simon Tyler says he has identified 26 potential drivers for suicide in the industry, many of which have received little attention.

"Given the nature of building and construction, it’s extremely disturbing to know that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than from a workplace accident," he says.

"This is a terrible reality for workers and their families.

"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.

"By examining these and other potential stressors in the sector, including work hours, job demands and legislation, we hope to develop best practice approaches to reduce rates of suicide."


Master Builders ACT will be speaking to construction workers and trainees to further research into mental health in the industry

Master Builders ACT, meanwhile, has used the recent lockdowns and industry shutdowns in the territory as a catalyst for mental health research, requesting funding from the ACT Training Fund Authority.

The aim is to audit 150 workers and apprentices about mental health and ultimately seek prioritised funding from the ACT government.

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins says the mental health impacts of the shutdowns were identified early and will be a long-term proposition for the industry.

"While everyone in the ACT construction industry responded quickly to shut down work sites when the ACT lockdown began, the impacts of the lockdown are likely to have an impact on mental health lasting months and even years after the lockdown ends," he says.

"In the first week of the construction industry shutdown, MBA members reported mental health as one of the most significant impacts on business owners and construction workers.

"For many construction workers, their families rely on them as the primary income earner.

"For others, working in construction is their life-long dream and purpose, and it has been taken away during lockdown."

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