Shocking suicide rates plaguing one industry sector

by Chloe Taylor27 Nov 2015
A new report has revealed that Australian construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work.

According to the report – released by charity Mates in Construction (MIC) – 169 construction workers take their own lives each year, highlighting the need for employers in the industry to support the mental health of their workforces.

The MIC found that suicide and suicidal behaviour is costing the Australian construction industry $1.57bn a year, almost all of which is within the public sector.

Since being released, the report has been publicised by the Queensland government’s workplace health and safety division, which claimed that the annual cost within the state alone is over $345bn.

The report’s authors said that its findings demonstrate the need for greater investment in training construction workers to recognise if a colleague is mentally unwell.

According to a report by a Scottish government agency, suicides and suicide attempts have multiple adverse financial effects on the worker’s family, employer and government, which are caused by several factors including production disturbance, human capital, medical, and administrative costs.

These costs can reportedly take several years to finalise.

The MIC has trained over 87,000 construction workers to recognise the signs of a mental illness, and has set up a network of over 7,000 volunteer ‘connectors’.

Mental health is a greater issue than many realise, the MIC said, which requires an industry-led approach.

The organisation has set a target of a 15% reduction in the Australian suicide rate over the next five years.

Australia has more than 750,000 construction workers – 85,000 of whom have been reached by the MIC to date.

If you or anyone you know is suffering with a mental health issue, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.


  • by HR Dude 27/11/2015 1:56:05 PM

    Is the rate of suicide more significant for this industry?

    The comparison, that the rate of suicide is higher than workplace deaths appears flawed. Workplace deaths are low across all industries, which would cause the statement 'more suicides than workplace deaths' to be valid. The rate of suicides is normally measured per 100,000, with Veterinarians, Paramedics, and Security Guards the highest with 38.2, 35.6 and 34.6 respectively. Lawyers, Police Officers and Nurses are around 10 (9, 10 and 9.7 respectively).

    The rate, seems around 22 (annual number divided by total), more than Real Estate Agents (13.4) but less than Truck Drivers (23.4).

    It’s fine to place this under the banner of a ‘workforce issue’ given the costs, but this doesn’t appear to be a particularly focused industry issue. This is an important distinction, because there is often a link between the type of work stress and the way employees are able to handle it. Does the casual nature of money effect stress? Does shift work hours? Does the work tasks? Are their age variables? (Construction is physically demanding, does age and the demanding nature have an effect?)

  • by Jorgen Gullestrup 29/11/2015 9:13:15 AM

    The rates used in the study are age standardised and are approximately 30% higher than the Australian male average (so it is apples vs apples). The age standardised rate was also applied against the four largest Australian states (NSW, Vic, Qld and WA) with similar results although the state general suicide rates varies significantly.

    It is correct that in most cases suicide rates will be above workplace accident mortality rates. The same comparison could be made with traffic deaths, violent crime and many other issues we recognise as significant requiring targeted effort for prevention. Given that suicide is a preventable cause of death, the comparison makes the case for increased effort. Suicide deaths have devastating outcomes for survivors often having intergenerational impact.

    Interaction between mental health and work is complex. Workers come as whole persons each with a mix of distal and proximate risk factors for poor mental health. Work has a significant impact on mental health both positive and negative, suicide is the most serious consequence of poor mental health. There is no suggestion that construction work causes suicide, but that the industry mix of demographic and situational risk factors leading to higher suicide rates. Workplaces has proven very suitable venues for suicide prevention.

  • by Beyond HR consultant 29/11/2015 10:08:54 AM

    @HR Dude! You make very valid points in your post! The factors that go into what prompts suicide and suicidal tendencies must be a priority research undertaking! Factors that you mention such as age, type of stress, such as lack of financial security due to casual work therefore inconsistent payments must be considered! In Australia lately there is a highly fluctuating rate of employment in permanent full time work! Even Centrelink employees are quite often employed as casuals and therefore have no employment security! In a country where costs of living are high , housing affordability is high and financial security is so low there would have to be a correlation in suicidal tendencies surely?

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