Construction workers are more susceptible to suicide than non-construction workers in Australia. Statistics shows that the average suicide rate per 100,000 persons between 2001 and 2013 for the male construction workers was 24.6, whereas that of the non-construction workers was 13.4.
According to the latest report on suicide in the construction industry by MATES in Construction, on average 169 construction workers killed themselves each year between 2001 and 2013. That means one construction worker committed suicide every two days. The alarmingly high suicide figure in the Australian construction industry leaves many families with broken hearts and results in an estimated cost of $1.57 billion dollars per year.
The high suicide rate of construction workers is not unique in Australia. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in 2016 showed that the suicide rate of construction workers in the US is four times higher than the US national average in 2012.
You may wonder why construction workers are more likely to kill themselves than others. Experts in the US found that construction folks work in a risky environment with easy access to heights. The “tough guy” culture prevents them from raising mental health problems. Mental health is considered a stigma in construction. Other factors contributing to high suicide rate in construction are high job pressure , alcohol and substance abuse, separation from families for seasonal work, and job insecurity.
Workplace safety, health and the well-being of employees are integral. The mental health of employees is just as important as physical safety. Some companies have already included mental health and well-being as a priority when it comes to their workplace health and safety.
For example, Lendlease works with Beyond Blue, Mental First Aid Australia and MATES in Construction to improve the psychological well-being of employees. Lendlease has more than 850 mental health first aiders, who are trained to spot signs of mental health problems and provide support to their mates before receiving professional counselling. Lendlease employees have the opportunity to attend a two-day mental health first aid training, learning how to transform their negative thoughts into more positive ones. They also have one-day well-being leave every three months.
Evidence shows that MATES in Construction’s suicide prevention program helps reduce suicide rates in construction. Comparing the suicide rates from five years before and five years after the program was introduced in Queensland shows that the suicide rate in Queensland reduced by 7.8 per cent. Should more construction companies include safety prevention program as part of safety and health management, the effect would be much higher.
Some might think mental health is a personal issue rather than a workplace health and safety issue. If the goal of workplace safety and health is to protect employees’ well-being, mental health needs to be considered. Employees are important resources for the company.
Investing in a suicide prevention program would be a smart choice for construction companies because it will enhance the overall well-being of employees and thus create a productive and engaged workforce for the company. If investing in a suicide prevention program helps to save lives and build a productive and engaged workforce, isn’t it worth consideration from more companies?
This piece was originally published on the ‘Sourceable’ January 31, 2017.