Suicide in construction industry is a workplace health and safety issue

John Crittall, Master Builders

Over 200 delegates from the construction industry attended the inaugural Construction Industry Conference on Mental Health in Brisbane to consider the topic Is suicide a Workplace Health and Safety Issue?

The conference was hosted by the National Construction Industry Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Committee, comprising the industry’s helping organisations, Incolink, OZHELP and MATES in Construction.

Keynote speaker Dr Sally Spencer-Thomas, from the USA, is an expert in suicide prevention. She revealed that workplace related suicide was an international problem. She shared her personal experience of her brother’s struggle with depression and his suicide, and how she founded a suicide research institute in his name, the Carson J Spencer Foundation.

One of the conference highlights was a panel discussion facilitated by Emma Alberici (LateLine) with a diverse panel covering employers with John Crittall (Director, Queensland Master Builders Association - pictured above right), unions with Dave Noonan (National Secretary CFMEU), the public sector with Dr Lesley Van Schoubroek (Queensland Mental Health Commissioner), the law with Cameron Dean (Partner, McCullough Robertson Lawyers) and academia with Dr Peter Chen (Professor, University of South Australia).

In response to questions from the floor, John Crittall revealed employers were “intimidated” by the whole mental health issue. They know it is part of their safety responsibility, but just don’t know how to handle it. John said employers are scared to say “Are you OK?” in case their employee says “No…. I have a mental health issue.”

John said this problem was solved by programs like MATES in Construction where workers had taken the initiative, and with employer cooperation, set up the MATES on-site support systems.

Dave Noonan, shared his experience of suicide through the loss of his nephew and of a good mate. He said it still affected him that he might have been able to prevent the tragedies, if had only known how to identify the problem and know what to do to help them when they needed it. This highlighted the importance of organisations like Incolink, OZHELP and MATES where help can be found.

Cameron Dean, in responding to a question about the use of legislation to force employers to provide mental health support and incentives, said that little would be achieved through additional legislation in his opinion. In terms of carrot and stick, the law is clearly the stick that can get some employers to improve labour practices.

Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Dr Lesley Van Schoubroek said her task was to identify suicide prevention programs that have worked and to help them to expand.

Delegates reported the conference had been a great success and that they had learned a lot from the speakers.

It was generally agreed that suicide in the construction industry is a workplace health and safety issue and efforts should be increased to address the whole of the industry and support workers employed in it.

Videos of all the speakers can be viewed on the MATES in Construction website.

Photo: John Crittall, Queensland Master Builders Association, spoke at the conference. Photo courtesy of MATES in Construction.

Last updated
02 May 2017