Construction is one of the leading industries in Australia in terms of number of employees, with almost 630,000 people across the country working in the industry. However, despite the industry’s prominence, it is currently facing a very real issue. Some alarming statistics have come to light around mental ill-health amongst its workers. In this blog, we discuss the severity of this issue, the contributing factors and what employers can do to help.
How severe is the crisis?
According to Mates in Construction, males working in construction are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than those working in other fields, with 3000 suicides within construction alone and 10,400 outside construction reported between 2001 and 2015. Over the 14-year period, 22.4% of suicides amongst men were shown to be males working in construction. As alarming as these statistics are, they are sadly not surprising, as one in four (25%) construction workers have experienced a mental illness.
Additionally, mental health has a serious impact on businesses and the overall economy. According to a report issued by beyondblue, one in five working Australians took time out of work due to mental health issues during the 12 month period between 2013-2014. Every year on average, depression in particular costs Australian businesses $8 billion in both sick leave and presenteeism, which is 220% higher than physical illnesses.
What is causing the crisis?
A range of potential causes have been identified by Mates in Construction as contributing factors, with work stresses being one of the most important. Due to work coming in temporary blocks and unsociable and long working hours, workers can find it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance and often end up facing issues with financial and job security. Experts have also noted that almost 90% of construction workers in Australia are men, and males are statistically far more at risk of suicide than females are.
According to Chris Lockwood, the CEO of Mates in Construction, alcohol and drug abuse is another significant risk factor, with workers in the industry being twice as likely to face life-threatening drinking and 10% more likely to abuse drugs.
Another factor that has been identified is the stigma against mental health, with experts noting that most people who suffer from common mental illnesses do not seek help from professionals, with men in particular being far less likely to seek help. There are thought to be various underlying issues that contribute to this, including lack of education on the symptoms of mental health issues or on how treatment can be sought. People who are struggling with their mental wellbeing often fear that they will face discrimination if they discuss their feelings openly, or at least find that others don’t understand. This stigma perpetuates a cycle of mental health feeling like a taboo subject among contractors.
As an employer, how can you help?
1. Prioritise making a difference
If you’re eager to make a positive difference within your business and improve how mental health is managed, whilst encouraging your employees to talk about their own wellbeing, the first step you can take is to clearly prioritise making a difference. This starts with briefing your senior management team and will enable you to start raising awareness within your business.
2. Publicise a dedicated helpline
If you don’t currently have an internal support structure or you would like your colleagues to have access to a confidential and impartial support system, there are external options available. A key example of this is the mental health support helpline that is offered by the charity Mates in Construction. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and covers Australia on a national scale.
To spread awareness of the helpline within your business, you could hand out flyers to all staff or put up posters around your workplace. Find out more about the helpline here.
3. Host a company-wide session on mental health
Organising a discussion session on mental health with your entire workforce is another important step to help you continue to make a positive difference within your business. During this session, it’s important to provide your staff with more information on common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. You should also detail the signs and symptoms of these illnesses as well as the support options that are available, so if a colleague is to experience one of these illnesses, they will now be able to identify it and understand the steps they can take to access support.
4. Send your senior staff on specialised training courses
By the time you get to this step you’ve raised considerable awareness amongst your workforce, so it is now vital that you make sure your senior staff have received the appropriate training to effectively manage mental health. If any of your senior staff members have not yet been trained, you can enrol them on mental health awareness courses. Ensuring that this training is completed is such an important step because this training will afford your staff the required skills to provide the necessary support and advice should they be approached by a team member about their mental wellbeing.
5. Always have enough mental health first aiders on site
Making sure that you always have enough accredited mental health first aiders visible within your workplace is the next step you can take to further protect your workforce, as this will enable your workers to access support immediately should they need it. But how can first aiders become accredited and appointed within your business? Mental Health First Aid Australia offer a range of intensive training courses including specialised courses for suicidal people, self-injury and gambling problems. To become an accredited mental health first aider, a core course must be completed.
At RapidBid, we care about the contractors we work with every day. That’s why we take mental health seriously and we’re committed to doing what we can to improve the current situation. This starts with raising awareness of the crisis and sharing advice like this about how individuals can take positive action.