Report reveals alarming rates of construction worker suicide in New Zealand

This article discusses suicide and mental health.

New research reveals there have been 300 suicide cases over the last decade in New Zealand's construction industry. Coroners' reports reveal a third of the cases were partly caused by workplace pressures.

Site Safe, a New Zealand platform advocating for health and safety in the construction industry, published its first-ever report on the high levels of suicide in the sector. The report particularly considers the pressures placed on construction workers. 

The data was drawn from 300 coroners' closed case files of construction worker suicides between 2007 and 2017. Although no single cause of suicide in the industry was identified, 32.3% of all cases were deemed by coroners to be somewhat influenced by workplace pressures.

Coroners' reports noted workplace pressures such as: "Job insecurity or uncertainty, the stress related to running a business, pressure to deliver under deadlines, juggling responsibilities and dealing with an injury or illness affecting the ability to work."

One in eight of the cases citing workplace pressures as a factor included experiences of job insecurity or uncertainty.

Those who were self-employed or business owners (11.3% of cases) were twice as likely to have been impacted by work-related factors than employees.

Almost all of the suicide cases in the study were men (99%).

The findings in the report reflect broader trends associated with male suicide in New Zealand. The most impacted age-groups were similar to national male statistics; 15% of cases were aged 20-24, and 14% aged 45-49.

As of 2013, Stats NZ reported that 32.6 male suicides per 100,000 people were aged 45-49. 28.8 male suicides per 100,000 people were aged 20-24. These groups had the second and third highest rates of suicide respectively.

Brett Murray, the Chief Executive of Site Safe, said: "It's an employer's responsibility to provide a safe environment for their workers and this includes protecting physical and mental wellbeing.

"There has been huge progress in workplace health and safety over the past twenty years, but we all need to play our part in shifting attitudes towards mental health."

Murray hopes the report will illuminate the suffering of those in the construction sector and will provide a crucial step towards a wider public understanding of the risk factors and pressures associated with the industry.

Spokesperson for the Mental Health Foundation Shaun Robinson said: "These pressures aren't unique to the construction industry, but the solutions can be found by getting the industry set-up to address these challenges and improve the mental health of its people.

"The most effective suicide prevention initiatives are tailored to the environments and cultures of people at risk."

Murray says Site Safe's report will be shared with the government, leaders in the construction industry and amongst their 6000 member businesses. The organisation is currently developing a mental health strategy based on the data.

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