Restrictions on the Victorian construction industry eased from 11.59pm on Monday, 4 October with a Construction Sector Roadmap setting a way forward for the sector to operate inline with Chief Health Officer directions.
Major trenchless and tunnelling works have ground to a halt across Melbourne since the Victorian Government’s announcement of the mandatory closures last Tuesday.
Victoria’s Big Build has suspended works across some of the state’s biggest projects in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.
These include works on the West Gate Tunnel Project as well as the Metro Tunnel Project, set to be completed in 2025.
Big Build said it would be working closely with its building parters to comply with construction-related public health orders for when works recommence.
This includes implementing strict measures to minimise workforce close contacts, such as staggered shifts and industry consultation to implement COVIDSafe meal and rest-break arrangements for our workforce.
Limited exemptions have been available to enable some workers to attend sites to respond to emergency or perform urgent and essential work.
Across town, Central Highlands Water (CHW) been issued an exemption for the Ballarat Sewer Build, which was declared a critical water infrastructure project.
CHW said workers on the Ballarat Sewer Build are subject to the same requirements as construction workers across the entire industry regarding vaccination.
All sites will be required to demonstrate compliance with the Chief Health Officer Directions prior to reopening on 5 October, including evidence of first vaccine dose.
For more information visit the Victorian Health Building Authority website.
In Australia, construction workers are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than the general population.
The construction sector employs more than 1 million Australians, making it one of the largest employing industries in the country.
There are well-documented factors that contribute to the industry’s elevated suicide rates among workers, including limited job security, long work hours, frequent time spent working in isolation from friends and family, and the prevalence of ‘blokey’ worksite cultures where the disclosure of personal struggles can be met with unsupportive responses.
Coupled with the common reluctance of men to seek help, the situation presents a perfect storm. With these factors in mind, there is a real need to implement an industry-wide strategy for addressing mental health and these alarming figures.
With approximately 600 employees across Australia and New Zealand working in some of the toughest conditions to keep the community’s essential water and sanitation services running year-round, Interflow has a commitment to invest in mental health.
Interflow Senior HSE Business Partner Troy Dawson explains the inclusion of mental health and safety into its ‘Harm 2 Zero’ approach.
“It is critical that organisations within the industry make an investment in mental health care to mitigate the risk of suicide or mental ill health among employees,” he says.
“As awareness for mental health issues continues to emerge, we are moving into an era where it’s automatically and naturally incorporated into workplace health and safety.”
Standing up for MATES in Construction
As part of its commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of its employees, Interflow strives to keep conversations surrounding mental health open and honest.
In addition to providing its employees with access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and participating in nationwide events such as R U OK? Day and National Safe Work Month, the organisation’s South Australian team recently engaged MATES in Construction (MATES).
Committed to taking a people-focused, industry-tailored response to the mental-health crisis, MATES has developed a suicide prevention program in partnership with industry, specifically designed to meet the needs of construction workers.
MATES CEO Chris Lockwood explains why this tailored approach is necessary.
“We decided to start from a position of the strengths that construction workers bring to the table. While men are commonly poor at seeking help, we also understood that men, and construction workers in particular, are terrific fixers and problem solvers,” he says.
“We turned the usual approach to suicide prevention on its head, with the goal of building an industry of people skilled at offering help. Promoting health-offering behaviours is the real core of the MATES program.
“We train people to be awake to the signs of poor mental health and suicide red flags among their peers. We build on this by providing regular construction workers with the conversational and relational skills to intervene and keep their mates safe when they sense things aren’t right. What we’re doing here is helping to build a more resilient and connected workforce.”
Interflow Project Engineer Alec Dawson attended the session alongside several other office and field crew members. He says it was a confronting but eye-opening experience.
“It was highly valuable to get all of the South Australia crew together to have a real discussion beyond ‘work talk’, but about our lives and how we are coping,” he says.
“It gives us the ability to understand the prevalence of mental health issues, identify when someone needs support, and more broadly, apply the valuable insight from MATES to our everyday activities.”
Turning talk into action
Now armed with enhanced knowledge on the matter, Interflow’s crews are tackling the stigma associated with discussing mental health issues head on.
The company believes organisational leaders will be key to leading this change and, by lending their support, time, and resources to promoting conversations and shifting organisational culture, the factors contributing to suicide rates in the construction industry can be shifted.
Chris Lockwood from MATES explores the importance of seeking solutions at a team, organisational, and societal level.
“Shifting societal and cultural norms isn’t a burden that should fall on any one person’s shoulders,” he says.
“We view suicide prevention as everybody’s business. The impacts of industry-based intervention programs such as MATES don’t stop with work. People with stronger awareness and suicide intervention skills carry these with them into their families, friendships and across the community.”
Mr Dawson, alongside Interflow’s leadership team, recognises that there is still much work to be done, but there is optimism that steps are being taken in the right direction.
“The MATES session was a great catalyst for further action,” he says.
“We have a responsibility to each other to destigmatise mental ill health and to support each other through life’s challenges.”
For more information visit the Interflow website.
Due to concerns about COVID-19 case numbers and transmission risk, the Victorian Government has announced a two-week shutdown for construction in metropolitan Melbourne and other local government areas currently in lockdown.