A major report into the construction industry released during September demonstrates urgent change is needed to address cultural issues that are costing the economy nearly $8 billion annually due to workplace injuries, mental illness, suicide, long work hours and a lack of diversity.

The Cost of Doing Nothing report outlines the estimated economic cost of lost wellbeing from work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses in 2018 was $6.1 billion; the productivity cost of employees consistently working overtime was $708 million; the cost of mental ill-health was $643 million and the cost of higher incidence of male construction worker suicides compared to other industries was $533 million. The report also highlighted that since 2006, construction has had had the lowest female representation of any industry in Australia.

The report by BIS Oxford Economics was commissioned by the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT) which was established in late 2018 to address cultural challenges facing the industry.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • People working in construction are twice as likely to commit suicide than the national average.
  • Nearly a quarter of people working in construction work more than 50 hours per week (23%).
  • Long and inflexible work hours are a substantial contributing factor to work-family conflict and cause an imbalance between work and non-work life.
  • Construction is the most male-dominated industry in the country, with women making up only 12% of the industry workforce, leading to issues of not being able to attract and retain talented women in the midst of a labour shortage which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and international border closures.
  • Low female representation is costing the industry as benefits of increasing female representation include decreasing aggressive behaviour and bullying, improved attention to detail and improved communication.

In response to the issues raised in the report, the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce – which is a unique partnership between the Australian Constructors Association, industry leaders, government and academia – has developed a draft Culture Standard.

Key elements of the draft Culture Standard include:

  • Time for Life – ensure people working in construction have enough time to rest and pursue activities outside work through initiatives such as flexible working arrangements and project scheduling that ensures workers are only working five days per week (or no more than 55 hours per week) and wherever possible, not on Saturdays, as is presently the case.
  • Diversity and Inclusion – attract and retain a diverse range of people to work in the industry by addressing pay gaps, involving women in strategic decision-making roles, providing suitable amenities and removing offensive material in the workplace.
  • Wellbeing – prioritise the mental and occupational health of the workforce through programs such as resilience training, suicide prevention, establishing ‘mental health first aiders’ and incorporating worker wellbeing to establish project timelines and delivery expectations.

A consultation period for the Culture Standard is now starting with industry participants and stakeholders. The Standard is expected to be finalised by the end of this year and implementation pilots due to start in NSW and Victoria in 2022 with other states and territories expected to follow soon after. It is expected that once finalised, the Culture Standard would apply to all construction companies working on government infrastructure projects.

To read the Cost of Doing Nothing Report or to view more information about the draft Culture Standard visit: www.cultureconstruction.com.au