Stress In The Construction Industry

Not too many people have built a new home and considered the experience stress free.  But has anyone considered the stresses on their builder? Workplace Health and Safety has for many years focused on the safety side of the construction site. It is time to focus on the health part as well. 

If you google the ‘definition of stress’ you will find a definition stating its “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”  The United States National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety defines work-related stress “as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.” The United Kingdom Health and Safety Commission stated “stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them.” and Comcare defined work-related stress as “a form of strain, a state of negative emotions and arousal experienced in relation to the work role.”  (Love, Edwards & Irani 2010)

Stress in Construction Industry 2

The construction industry is almost 98% small businesses employing less than 20 people with most employing less than 5 in housing construction.  Contractors and sub-contractors are engaged routinely on most construction sites.  With the construction industry being volatile it can be difficult to determine where the next job may come from and how long the one you have will last.  With such variation in expected income not only do most contractors have all the stresses associated with running a small business, they have a business with no guaranteed long term stability.

There are many triggers for stress in the workplace and occupational physician Professor Niki Ellis includes the following:

  • Excessive job demands
  • Not having enough control over your work
  • Lack of clarity
  • Job insecurity
  • Difficult relationships
  • Bullying or discrimination

Additional triggers or risk factors expressed by Ass. Prof. Angela Martin for being a small business owner include:

  • financial stress due to unpredictable income
  • high levels of uncertainty where you don't know where the next job is coming from
  • high job demands and multiple responsibilities in the workplace
  • isolation and lack of social support
  • high level responsibility to others including employees and family
  • presenteeism where you continue to work even if you aren't well, because if you are away the business doesn't happen
  • long hours which may be even a bigger problem than in the corporate world
  • blurring of boundaries between home and work, finding it difficult to separate yourself from your work and not taking time out for yourself
  • business failure, which also carries a suicide risk.


The majority of construction workers are men and, with 1 in 8 men experiencing depression and 1 in 5 men experiencing anxiety at some stage of their lives, it is likely someone you work with may be suffering.

On Average women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, men however are less likely to talk about it. This increases the risk of depression or anxiety going unrecognised and untreated for many men. A 2015 study from Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry however, showed a significant increase in men with mental health problems seeking assistance for their mental health – from 32.0% in 2006–2007 to 40.0% in 2011–2012 with the growth driven largely by uptake of private specialised services. (Harris et. al 2015). So many more men are now seeking help, however there are still a large number not seeking help.  Not seeking help can lead to further depression with dire consequences.

Suicide in Australia effects every age and occupation. Notably 75% of suicides are men – more die by their own hand than from skin cancer, liver disease, heart failure or car accidents. Every two days in Australia a construction worker kills himself. Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than through a workplace accident. For those under the age of 24, the increased risk is 10 fold. (Munro 2016).

MATES in Construction (MIC) is a charity established in February 2008 by the Building Employees Redundancy Trust (BERT). MIC is funded from several sources; 40% funding from BERT, 25% from the Queensland Government, and 35% from a variety of industry funds including unions, employer associations and contractors.  A study done to review the effectiveness of the MIC programs provided evidence to support the social validity of improving suicide and mental health awareness, help-seeking behaviour, and treatment engagement, thereby reducing the suicide risk for construction workers in Queensland. (Gullestrup, Lequertier & Martin 2011).

If you feel stresses, depressed or just need to talk, contact someone who can help.

“Even if you don’t have a specific mental health issue you can call up and speak to someone”

Jack Smith (Sunday Telegraph p.37, Sydney 01/05/2016,

Mates in Construction       p) 1300 642 111

Lifeline                                       p) 13 11 14

Beyondblue                         p) 1300 22 4636




Gullestrup, J , Lequertier, B & Martin, G 2011,”MATES in Construction: Impact of a Multimodal, Community-Based Program for Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry”, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 8, pp.418:4196

Harris, M, Diminic, S, Reavley, N, Baxter, A, Pirkis, J, & Whiteford, H 2015, “Males’ mental health disadvantage: An estimation of gender-specific changes in service utilisation for mental and substance use disorders in Australia”, Australian and New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, vol.49, no.9, pp. 821-832

Hawksley, B 2007, “Work-related stress, work/life balance and personal life coaching”, British Journal of Community Nursing, vol.12, no.1, pp.34-36

Love, P, Edwards, D & Irani, Z 2010,” Work Stress, Support, and Mental Health in Construction”, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, vol.136, no.6

Munro, P 2016 “Hard times: the suicide scourge among Australia's tradies” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 5 2016, viewed June 10 2016

Spark, S & Ryan, C 2016, “How to beat stress at work before it damages your health”, ABC Health and Wellbeing, viewed June 9 2016

Other articles relating to this topic:

Stress in the workplace

Managing Construction Industry Stress