Health & Wellbeing

The unspoken workplace risk for tradies

There is a major risk that has been facing the trade industry for years, yet it’s one not enough people talk about.

There is a lot of evidence out there showing that those working in the construction industry are at a heightened risk of suicide. In fact, according to Mates in Construction, the suicide rate among tradies is 1.7 times higher than for other men, and according to coronial data, compared to other industries, those in construction have one of the highest rates of suicide and the highest number of overall suicides. The question is, why? And what is being done to address this?

Unspoken risk

So much is done to ensure workplace occupational health and safety is assessed and dealt with, and safety procedures are non-negotiable on work sites. Yet nothing formal exists to address the mental health issues facing too many young Australians working a trade.

According to Dr Mark Deady from the Workplace Mental Health Research team at Black Dog Institute, there are a few possible reasons why those in the construction industry are struggling. “It is likely to be the result of an interplay between workplace related factors, things like seasonal employment fluctuations leading to job insecurity, remote or isolated locations along with competitive, high pressure work strain, and personal factors of the worker themselves, such as alcohol and substance abuse, low mental health literacy, and low rates of help seeking,” Dr Deady explains.

On top of this, the construction industry has a long-standing historical culture around ‘toughness’ and ‘self-reliance’. Dr Deady also points out that the lack of awareness around mental health can lead to a lack of understanding of where and when to get help, and how to support mates on site. “Awareness raising is important in destigmatising the issue of mental illness and increasing knowledge in this area, however, it’s only one part of the puzzle in creating mentally healthy workplaces,” he continues.

Simply starting the conversation can have a huge impact

What to do

For workplaces, employers should have an Employee Assistance Program that workers can use confidentially. There are also plenty of organisations that can help develop a workplace mental health strategy, such as Heads Up.

For coworkers, simply starting the conversation can have a huge impact. “Trust your gut when something doesn’t seem right,” Dr Deady says. “You won’t have all the answers and won’t necessarily be able to ‘fix’ someone else’s problems. This is okay. In most cases this isn’t what people need, instead being able to feel heard and that someone is there for them is often enough.”

Having the conversation

Dr Deady provides some tips on how to get the conversation started.

  1. Make sure you’re in the right headspace and physical space.
  2. Keep it friendly and relaxed, and try to ask open questions, mentioning any specific things that have made you concerned for them.
  3. If they don’t want to talk, don’t criticise or be confrontational.
  4. Know that silences can be helpful - they give the person time to think.
  5. Don’t judge or try to quickly problem solve; instead acknowledge that things seem tough for them.
  6. When they're ready, explore options for action - have they faced anything like this before? How have they managed in the past? Explore how you can help and what they can do for themselves that may relax them.
  7. Encourage your mate to see a healthcare professional.

Expect the support

There’s an expectation to wear a hard hat on all building sites, so why is there no expectation to check on your employees or coworkers mental health? It’s too important to ignore.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can call beyond blue on 1300 22 4636.

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