Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss, nor is workplace stress, but both these topics are a big issue for the building and construction industry.

Statistics show that every second day an Australian construction worker ends their life. Every. Second. Day.

Today is World Day for Safety and Health at Work which this year is focusing  on workplace stress. Shining a light on stress in our industry and how to handle it, is charity, Mates in Construction (MIC). We interviewed MIC Field Officer, Heather Drew, about her work.

I’m one of three Field Officers for Mates in Construction in NSW. We visit construction sites, by invitation, and conduct a community development program around mental health wellbeing, and preventing suicide. Basically, we’re encouraging workers to talk to each other and be a mate.  

Our motto is “mates helping mates”. We also highlight what it could look like if someone is doing it tough and what they can do about it.

What does it look like?

A good indicator is a change in behaviour. Men are very proud in their workspace. So, if someone becomes a little “slap happy” it could be a sign something else is going on. It might be more obvious; an easy going person for example suddenly becomes quite moody or withdrawn or even depressed. Perhaps they might start drinking more or coming to work late, not appearing the way they used to.

Are there statistics on triggers for stress? 

Yes. Griffith University in QLD was commissioned to do a major study following a report showing over 20% of death claims paid out from BERT (industry employer trust) were the result of suicide. The study looked into the life events of a person before they took their lives  including what factors in the industry might have contributed to it.

Results show that relationship problems, custody battles, loss of a loved one, and financial problems were consistent life events that contributed to someone deciding to end it.

Most men will have a chat but not about their feelings. So it’s easy for someone to feel alone, like they are the only ones with that problem. The thing is in our industry there are a lot of us going through the same sort of stuff. Financial stress, for example, can be quite frequent in our industry. People are made redundant all the time with projects coming and going, and we all have relationship problems at some time or other.

We believe sharing that sort of information with a mate who’s doing it tough it can help them feel like I’m not the only one going through stuff. It might be easier to think we all have these problems so deal with it but let me tell you if are on a job where someone takes suicides the ripple effect is huge.

What else can be done to change this statistic?

MIC has a great training program that is broken into three sections:

General Awareness which introduce workers to the nature of the problem and provides practical guidance as to how they can assist.

Connector Training this is for people who have volunteered to be a connector on site. They are trained to help keep someone in crisis safe, while at the same time connecting them to professional help.

ASIST Training which trains in how to talk to a person contemplating suicide with the object of making this person “safe”. This is like Suicide First Aid.

Each level has a hard hat sticker badge which is visible for others to see.

How do you get this information through to the sole trader, small builder or contractor?

MIC struggles to get to the small builders but we are very aware they have the same issues as workers on a big site. It’s hard to get to everyone.

On a commercial site there might be 300 people you can get the message out to at one time, and for the workers, there is a much better chance of connecting with someone if they need to. If you’re working on your own however or with one or two other workers, the pressures might be the same but the opportunity to talk about what’s going on is minimal, particularly with financial pressures.

I recently spoke to a bloke who said “I’m just so under pressure trying to deal with all my paperwork, with all my emails, I’m trying to deal with the two subbies I had a working for me, and I’m not getting enough work because I’m not getting enough time”.  So as you can see it can be all consuming.

So what is available for the small builder?

We have a great website which will help you get connected with the right people if you or your mate is doing it tough.

We also have a really supportive crisis line that operates nationally  24/7 for anyone who needs to talk or if they are concerned about someone else and would like to know what to do. We are not counsellors but we can get you in touch with the right people who can help.

We are also so happy to provide training to any group, even a group of sole traders, in the industry. Please call if you want to get a group together.

What’s a really good tip that you think helps getting people to connect with each other? When a mate is doing it tough, do something, and if you don’t know what to do call us.


CALL: 1300 642 111