While dollar figures pale in comparison to the impact of lives lost, suicidal behaviour among construction industry workers costs around $520 million per year in New South Wales and around $416 million per year in Queensland, according to a new report.

Without attempting to detract from the much more important human cost, the new report – which was commissioned by Mates in Construction and prepared by Hunter Medical Research Institute professor Christopher Doran – examined suicidal behaviour data throughout New South Wales and Queensland between 2001 and 2012 and attempted to quantify the economic cost of such behaviour to workers, employers and the government.

It found that in New South Wales alone, the average cost of each self-harm attempt came in at $925, $2.78 million and $2.14 million for attempts resulting in short-term absence, long-term absence and fatality respectively – the majority of which was borne by the government and the economy in terms of lost tax revenues and social security costs.

The report also noted that construction workers are four to six more times more likely to commit suicide compared than they are to lose their lives due to a workplace accident, that workers in lower skilled occupations and younger workers are most at risk, and that the suicide risk in New South Wales over the past decade has been consistently higher than that for the general population – albeit with risk rates being broadly consistent with the general population in Queensland.

Overall, it put the financial and economic cost of building worker suicides at $520 million in New South Wales and $416 million in Queensland.

The latest report comes after a Beyond Blue survey in June found that almost four in 10 managers and workers within the building industry did not believe their workplace was mentally healthy, with many acknowledging they would prefer to hide depression or anxiety from their colleagues.

Doran noted the impact of mental health in Australia cannot be understated.

“In Australia mental illness is ranked third in terms of total burden of disease behind cancer and cardiovascular disease,” he said. “As a serious public health problem the prevention of suicide hasn’t been adequately addressed in society or the workforce, due to a lack of awareness and the stigma associated with discussing it openly.”

Mates in Construction operations manager John Brady told ABC’s PM program that men often found it difficult to talk about feelings and problems, and that often, being prepared to listen to problems shared by co-workers could make a significant difference.

Key facts:

  • From 2010 to 2012, 141 construction workers in New South Wales and 134 in Queensland committed suicide
  • The average age of a construction worker taking their own life was 37.7 in New South Wales and 36.8 in Queensland
  • The average economic cost of self-harm attempts by construction workers (in 2010 dollars) throughout 2010 was $925 for an for an attempt which resulted in short-term absence from work, $2.78 million for attempts which result in full incapacity and $2.14 million in the case of fatalities – around 97 per cent of which was borne by the government in terms of lost taxes and, in the case of incapacity, social security payments.

If you or anyone you know is thinking about or at risk of suicide, call:

Mates in Construction 1300 642 111

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

MensLine Australia 1300 789 978

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467