Saving the lives of Australian construction workers

Tuesday, 15 June, 2021

Saving the lives of Australian construction workers

Every year, 190 Australians working in the construction industry take their own lives; this means we lose a construction worker every second day to suicide. Construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than an accident at work, and young workers are well over two times more likely to take their own lives than other young Australian men. But early intervention saves lives.

MATES in Construction is investing in research that will enhance opportunities for early intervention by determining who distressed construction workers first turn to and where they end up.

As a starting point, 30 construction workers recently came together in Brisbane to talk about what emotional distress looks like for people in their industry. Led by Dr Carla Meurk from The University of Queensland, the consultation engaged an array of construction industry stakeholders including construction workers, unions, industry associations, industry funds and the Queensland Mental Health Commission to co-design a concept of distress that matches the attitudes, behaviours and vernacular of construction workers.

The project aligns with a new direction in Australia’s national response to suicide prevention as outlined in recent reports, including the National Suicide Prevention Adviser’s Final Report and the Productivity Commission’s report on the inquiry into mental health. In particular, the Final Report calls for a stronger focus on data and evidence to drive outcomes, including a national and joined-up approach to collecting, sharing and using suicide data.

The consultation precedes a larger future study that will use key words from the new-found definition of distress to extract and link data from various datasets relevant to the construction industry. This will in turn provide valuable information about the nexus between individuals in distress and where they first turn to for help.

Anecdotally, MATES understands that the first port of call for distressed workers includes an array of agencies whose core business sits outside the provision of mental health support or social care. The current research agenda will enhance opportunities for effective early intervention, says Jorgen Gullestrup, CEO Mates in Construction (QLD/NT).

“This project will provide the industry with a better understanding of the touchpoints between distressed workers and atypical sources of support,” Gullestrup said.

“This new knowledge will enable MATES to broaden the application of its existing early intervention model to new locations, pathways and services that align with the real help-seeking behaviour of affected people,” he said.

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