Building industry working to improve mental health, reduce suicide

The building industry is hoping new research into what drives its high rate of suicide will help spur action and conversations about mental health.

A report published today by Site Safe explores the drivers of mental illness in a male-dominated field.

Construction is one of the country's largest industries, and a 2016 report showed workers made up almost seven percent of all suicides - the highest of any sector.

With funding from BRANZ, Site Safe published its findings into the pressures on construction workers who took their own lives.

It reviewed 300 coroners' case files of suicides by people in the industry between 2007 and 2017.

While it found there was no single driver and the factors were complex, there were a number of patterns.

"The strongest theme to emerge from this study was that of distress as a result of interpersonal relationship problems. More than half the cases in the sample were dealing with a relationship break-up or problem with their romantic partner," the report said.

Workplace pressures including job insecurity, the stress of running a business, and deadline pressures were also mentioned in nearly a third of all cases.

"Work-related factors are not unique to the construction industry, but the details uncovered by this study indicate the way the industry functions. For instance, construction is a competitive, high-risk/highpressure industry that is subject to market forces largely outside its control and is heavily populated by small and medium enterprises."

The report said its findings provided "a mandate for trades right across the construction sector to prioritise initiatives to improve mental health and wellbeing for their workforce".

Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray said the numbers were devastating.

"The tragedy is that you're six times more likely to die from suicide as a construction worker than you are from accident.

"One of the things that the study has thrown up is that small business owners and self-employed were twice as likely to have been impacted by work related factors as people who were employees so it's a real issue."

More awareness

There was growing awareness in the sector about the importance of mental health, and the report would be shared with their 6000 members, government, and industry leaders, he said.

"There are recommendations in the report for government around prioritising funding to support initiatives. In terms of industry leadership what we're looking for is industry really focusing on industry factors that the study identifies so they eliminate and minimise the risk of mental harm in their workplaces. Workplaces need to be safe environments.

Other recommendations included adding mental health, financial literacy, and business management skills into vocational and sector training.

The head of Registered Master Builders, David Kelly, said as people became aware of the statistics more people were recognising physical dangers weren't the only things to look out for.

"This study I think is very helpful because it starts to point at some areas that are common but also shows there are a range of factors involved. I don't have the magic solutions, I think we just have to start the conversations and find the tools."

Work was already underway to look at practical ways to help people, he said.

"The first thing is just saying 'It's ok to talk about it, people have problems in their life' and so there are different initiatives, a couple of branches have used Mike King who is extremely good on this stuff, so people feel that they can talk about it because unfortunately it's an industry where traditionally it's been male dominated and we're not good at talking about some of these problems."

With much of the industry comprised of small residential builders many people were under pressure, he said.

"Often they're working relatively on their own and so we have to find ways to give those people support. Then when you get into the larger commercial sector that's a slightly different dynamic but we've all heard about businesses going broke or struggling to make money even in boom times so it's about giving people the tools to deal with the pressure."

Registered Master Builders had started created tools to help give people confidence in operating a business. He said work needed to be done across the sector including involving subcontractors and specialist trades in tackling the issue.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155