Research urgently needed to understand construction suicide rate

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Further research to uncover what is fuelling the alarmingly high rate of suicides in construction will be urgently undertaken by industry organisations.

Site Safe NZ, in partnership with the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ), have announced that they will be leading a new, in-depth study to uncover the underlying trends behind the high number of suicides in the industry.

Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray says understanding the problem is the first step to prevention.

“This vital research will help us get the data we need to understand the bigger picture. Unlike Australia, where the high rate of suicide in construction has been recognised for years, in New Zealand we are still coming to grips with the scale of the problem,” Mr Murray says.

The study aims to analyse the coroner’s findings of all suicides of construction workers from 2007 until 2017 — some 339 cases — to better understand any common factors.

“Having access to these cases will give us a real opportunity to take an in-depth look at this issue.

“By undertaking this research, Site Safe hopes to shed some light on what is driving poor mental health in construction, so we can then work alongside industry and government to put in place effective prevention programmes.”

The announcement comes after an initial BRANZ scoping study suggested that a “macho” or “harden up” culture was one of the key factors behind high rates of suicide in construction, and that further research was urgently required.

According to the Suicide Mortality Review Committee (2016), construction has the highest suicide rate of all industries in New Zealand.

At 6.9% (or 15.4 deaths of men of working age per year over the five years analysed), it is marginally higher than farming and forestry, which sits at 6.8%.

“For many years we’ve put the focus on safety, rather than looking at people’s health more broadly,” Mr Murray says.

“It’s time we recognised that we must do more and prevent suicide from having a tragic effect on the lives of so many Kiwi families.”

It is expected the study’s initial results will be available early next year.