A tsunami of stress affecting construction workers

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the mental health of construction workers, with a ‘perfect storm’ of supply chain issues, rapidly rising costs and a drastic shortage of skilled labour piling on the pressure – a good deal of which can be attributed to the Government’s failure to deliver.

Construction workers already have the highest rate of suicide of any industry group in NZ, which is an appalling statistic. But a new report commissioned by mental health support group Mates In Construction shows just how badly this particular group are affected.

From a survey completed by over 1200 workers, almost half (43 per cent) reported that their mental health has worsened since Covid arrived on our shores. Tragically, between September and December last year, 4 per cent of respondents seriously thought about ending their life, 2 per cent made plans to end their life, and 1 per cent made an attempt to end their life.

The situation in the industry is becoming dire. According to the NZ Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga, the cost of both residential and non-residential construction rose more than 10 per cent last year and a similar rise is expected this year.

In 2020, the national average cost per square metre to build a house was $2359. Some builders are now estimating this is heading towards $3500 per square metre.

Builders can no longer offer fixed-price contracts due to cost volatility, and they are increasingly working to tighter and tighter margins.

The industry was already grappling with a shortage of skilled workers before the arrival of Covid, but the Labour Government’s policy on immigration and MIQ constraints have locked out the international workforce, leaving the industry critically short and creating an extremely tight labour market, which is also driving cost pressure.

Add to this the increasing delays for building materials, including core componentry such as wallboard, flooring and roofing products – up to six months in some locations – and Government-imposed regulations around workers having to isolate if exposed to Omicron, is it any wonder that construction companies and workers are buckling under the pressure?

There is no shortage of work. The National Construction Pipeline Report 2021 forecasts that construction activity will grow steadily to 2024, largely driven by demand from the residential sector.

The Government needs to realise that the construction industry needs support. It needs workers on site, materials delivered on time, and the promotion of alternative construction methodologies, such as offsite manufacturing, to speed up the delivery of new houses. The industry needs this now, before we lose even more workers to suicide.

Read the Mates in Construction report, ‘Industry wellbeing environmental scan and survey’, here