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'Sobering stories': one industry's suicide epidemic

A new collaborative initiative from Winslow Constructors and beyondblue seeks to address the astronomical rates of suicide among Australian construction workers, which are among the highest in the country. 

Research from Mates in Construction, a charity set up specifically to address suicide prevention in the construction industry, shows that 190 Australian construction workers take their own lives every year – a rate of one every second day. 

Winslow Constructors are aiming to combat that statistic with a new initiative: a Hitachi ZX360 excavator painted in the signature blue colour of advocate organisation beyondblue. 

The blue excavator, which launches on Tuesday this week, was implemented in response to the “sobering stories” Winslow continued to hear about the toll mental illness has on those in the industry. 

“We want to ensure every one of our employees is able to go home after work both physically and mentally fit,” Winslow chief executive Trevor Lockwood said. 

“So, it’s vital for them, and their families, that we head mental illness off at the pass wherever possible, and ‘Big Blue’ is just one way we wish to encourage our staff to take action if they find themselves anxious, depressed or even suicidal.” 

Winslow is “acutely aware” that the construction industry has higher than community average rates of mental illness, and it must continue to support its workers across the board. When asked by Wellness Daily what it currently has in place, Mr Lockwood noted that professional support is offered by way of access to external counselling services, senior staff are trained in mental health awareness aimed at starting conversations, OHS staff are qualified in mental health first aid, and Return to Work arrangements are also in place. 

“It’s not enough to be hot on workplace safety – we are that, it’s a constant obsession – but we need to pay attention to what’s going on inside people’s heads too,” Winslow general manager Rohan Davidson said. 

“And in a rather traditional, male-dominated industry, that means encouraging men to talk about topics that they’re not used to sharing openly.” 

These social issues are particularly pertinent, Mr Davidson noted, with the mobile nature of the construction industry often requiring workers to travel depending on project locations, thus taking time away from family and friends. 

Such personal disconnect can lead to increased substance abuse, he argued, which in turns worsens mental health. 

“Australian construction workers have double the rate of life-threatening drinking compared to the national average, and a drug use rate that’s 10 per cent higher,” he said. 

In response, the aforementioned services and the new ‘Big Blue’ excavator will hopefully remind workers that if they are having a hard time, they are not alone and help is always available, Mr Lockwood said. 

“As Big Blue makes the rounds to various Winslow projects during the year, it will hopefully keep mental health and the front of our workers’ minds and encourage people to talk and reach out,” he said. 

“That’s what Big Blue symbolises, because nothing, ultimately, is as important as the safety, health and wellbeing of our workforce.”

beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman welcomed the initiative, acknowledging the awareness-raising campaign as an important step in the right direction for the construction industry. 

“I can’t wait to see Big Blue in action onsite, generating awareness as it works away,” she said. 

“We’re very thankful to organisations like Winslow for their support and demonstrating it in such a visually impactful and dramatic way.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

RECENT COMMENTS

Love this .. I grow my own veggies and fruit, they taste better when in season locally
Jules 56 days ago
Thanks, Sophie -- some good life advice in your article!
Peter Eedy 74 days ago
Hey Sophia, I’m the dad of a 12 year old rugby player, Molly has been playing for 4 years. Great insight into the thought process of a young woman and I’m hoping the benefits she’ll get over time.
Paul Bunker 76 days ago