The Tradie Well-Being Project: I was recently asked by a colleague to be part of a new initiative looking into how we could significantly improve the health and mental well-being of construction workers, both blue collar and white-collar, in Australia.
Now, whilst I wanted to help out, given that I had about four million things on the go at the moment, I wasn’t sure I’d have the time.
But my mate Tony is pretty good at persuading people. All he said to me was “have a look at the following statistics and we’ll start tomorrow”.
Anyway, when I started to delve into the statistics, to say that I was gob-smacked would have been a total understatement.
Having been in the construction game for over 24 years, I knew that mental health was very much a topical subject.
And it was being taken more and more seriously by companies and individuals.
I also knew that there had been some fantastic initiatives developed over the last 10 years like the “R U OK” and “Mates in Construction” organisations that have brought the issue to the forefront.
But even so, the statistics were chilling.
The Statistics Will Frighten You
Even with the good dollars that construction workers earn, the statistics tell us the following:
- 57% of workers worry about job security and cash flow;
- 91% worry about being out of work while paying off their homes and providing for their families;
- 62% live from pay cheque to pay cheque; and
- 2 out of 3 marriages end in divorce
More damning than that is:
- Construction workers are 70% more likely to suicide than workers in other industries;
- For every construction worker that suicides, 30 more have attempted it;
- Every year, 190 Australian construction workers take their own lives
That is one every second day!
In comparison, in 2018 there were unfortunately 33 construction and mining workers killed on the job (Source: Safe Work Australia).
Between 2001 and 2015, 3,000 construction workers died by suicide.
That is just not acceptable.
And this is not just a blue-collar issue.
- 37% of engineers describe their mental health as poor;
- 22% had taken time off work as a result of emotional or mental health problems; and
- 22.5% had considered harming themselves or taking their own lives.
I mean seriously, check out these numbers.
I had no choice but to help Tony with the Tradie Well-Being Project.
Is History Repeating Itself?
The pressure that people in construction will feel over the next few years will amplify due to the construction boom being encouraged by all levels of government to get us out of this COVID funk.
I’ve seen this sort of ramp up before during the resources boom. Workers were making ridiculous money and buying every manner of toys with their newfound disposable income.
The pressures to deliver more projects than we physically have the resources will be one issue.
Back in the resources boom around 2008 to 2012, there was a significant influx of interstate and overseas workers into Western Australia to deal with the high volume of construction work.
Given the COVID situation and the fact that the eastern states have their own mega-projects on the go, we will struggle to meet the resource requirements.
With a low supply of workers but a high demand for them, wage rates will increase significantly.
Just like in the resources boom, our construction workers, particularly those new to the game, will have a much higher level of disposable income. I’m guessing jet-ski sales and Holden Maloo Ute sales (if they were still around) will go through the roof.
But seriously, I’m looking to the aftermath…when the glut of projects comes to an end. Like it did at the end of the resources boom.
Workers who had been earning big dollars and living “the high life” had to readjust quickly. They had to sell off the toys because all of a sudden, they were struggling to make ends meet.
There were less jobs which meant reduced wages, or potentially no wages at all as the work dried up.
History has a habit of repeating itself. We need to ensure that this time round, those in construction are better prepared for it.
What Can We Do?
There are so many great initiatives out there at the moment. And there is no doubt that the focus on mental health in the construction industry has improved remarkably over the last 10 years.
But I feel that most of what we do is still reactive. We are providing services once the worker has found themselves in trouble – be it financial, health or mental trouble.
And there is still a heavy reliance on the person with the problem coming forward to seek help. Which in the construction game is like pulling teeth.
My view is that we, as an industry, need to develop a more proactive approach.
An approach where we all, individual and company, take responsibility for preventing the worker from getting into a slump in the first place.
An approach where we can provide proactive education on how each worker can:
- Live a full and more balanced life;
- Maintain and grow a healthy relationship with their family
- Manage their personal and financial stress; and
- Break the cycle of stress and pressure so they can live in a healthy mental state.
An approach like the Tradie Well-Being Project.
So Tony was right. After I looked at the statistics, I started working with him the very next day.
I don’t profess to be the expert in this field. I’m not even close. But I have a hell of a lot of experience and what I can tell you is this.
In 24 years, I’ve seen my fair share of family, friends and colleagues who have suffered in silence. And some who have decided that it was all just too hard.
Given what I know now, to sit back and do nothing would be wrong. And if it helps just one person, then it was worth it.
We are still in the early stages, but keep an eye out for the “Tradies Well-Being Toolbox” and our upcoming website www.tradieswellbeing.com.au which we hope will make a difference.