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Fulton Hogan and the Black Dog Institute: For the entire industry

Fulton Hogan and Black Dog Institute are helping to develop strategies and methods for improving mental health across the construction sector. Image: Fulton Hogan.

Fulton Hogan’s partnership with the Black Dog Institute is helping to forge a brighter path forward when it comes to addressing and improving mental health across the entire infrastructure sector.

According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians will experience symptoms of mental illness annually, equating to around five million people. Unfortunately, around 60 per cent of these people won’t seek help.

Mental health has long been one of the infrastructure and construction sector’s glaring issues. 

Fulton Hogan, like many in the sector, is actively working to improve awareness and education, to normalise discussion and treatment for mental illness.

The company continues to be successful in this area, being recognised at an industry level, as the winner of the 2023 Victorian Workplace LiFE (Living is For Everyone) Award, distributed by Suicide Prevention Australia. These awards celebrate the commitment and determination of companies working towards the reduction of suicide within the community. Fulton Hogan has also been recognised by the Mental Health First Aid Workplace Recognition Program as a “Skilled Workplace”.

Sarah Marshall – Executive General Manager – People, Safety and Sustainability, has been one of the key leaders and trailblazers in establishing a structure around supporting the mental health of employees of all levels across the entire business.

“Mental illness in our industry has long been a silent and problematic challenge that has had a profound impact on individuals, their families, friends and colleagues,” she says. “I have been working in the mental health space in the construction industry since 2008 and whilst lots of work has been done in the industry over that time and construction workers are generally more comfortable having conversations, the dial hasn’t really shifted.” 

Marshall says it takes a significant amount of energy and effort to make meaningful change, especially when it comes to minimising critical risks such as mental health.

“In 2019, we established the Fulton Hogan Mental Health Strategy. We all agreed that this was not going to be a quick fix, it was going to take concerted effort over a long period of time to get the cultural change that we needed to see,” she says. 

This led to the development of Fulton Hogan’s five-year comprehensive mental health strategy, which focused on the organisational readiness, awareness and education, active intervention and support, recovery and maintenance, prevention and early intervention. 

The implementation of the strategy has been successful, including 80 per cent of its leaders having undertaken mental health leadership training. As a result, Fulton Hogan now has over 500 trained mental health first aiders in its business nationally including a percentage of their CEOs and General Managers. 

Zach Humphrey – National Health and Safety Manager, says mental health plans for the company’s projects and sites have also been developed.

“Fulton Hogan comes from a grassroots history that values its people above all else. That encompasses both physical and non-physical illnesses and injuries. That starts from our senior leaders and at the executive leadership down, giving practical tools to members of our team and being able to refer them to really good resources,” he says.

Fulton Hogan has committed significant resources to maintain its current momentum in this space.

“Health and wellbeing, including mental health, is one of our six critical risks in our recently launched health and safety strategy,” Humphrey says. “It is the basis for one of our critical risk groups, each of which are chaired by a member of our Executive who can endorse identifying, conceptualising and funding further improvement projects within the business, focused on improved mental health outcomes for our workforce.”

 “That will continue to identify really great innovations, initiatives and other opportunities internally.”

To further expand its access to resources and information around mental health – and in line with its five-year mental health strategy – Fulton Hogan reached out to the Black Dog Institute in 2020 to begin discussions around a potential partnership. 

Both organisations see eye to eye when it comes to mental health, identifying that fundamental change is required across the sector.

Tasman Cassim is the Head of Partnerships at the Black Dog Institute. As he explains, the enterprise aims to make an impact and influence change for the better on a massive scale.

“We’re looking to influence significant changes to the population’s mental health right across Australia,” Cassim says. “We’re doing that through finding new and better solutions and putting them in the hands of the right people at the right time. We’re one of the only organisations in Australia and the world that conducts research in this space and translates that research into action.”

“We focus on tangible things that are going to help people with their mental health and what that means is that we spend a lot of time understanding what’s happening with two of the major mental health disorders in Australia, which are depression and anxiety.”

“We design and understand the best research that’s going to help Australians at a time that works best for them. All of our work is evidence based and goes through very rigorous scientific trials. We’re fully rooted in evidence. The Black Dog Institute is also the only organisation and researcher in Australia that looks at mental health right across the lifespan. We cover research from young people, to older people and everyone in between.”

He adds that there are many “fantastic organisations” that are helping to contribute to a society that can better discuss and treat mental health, but the Black Dog Institutes’ approach differs slightly.

“A lot of other organisations mainly focus on the individual, providing what I’d call crisis care 24/7, which is a fantastic service. We look from a population level to influence a large majority of Australians to reduce collectively any mental health illnesses that they’re going through,” Cassim says.

The construction industry represents one of a few sectors that exhibit disproportionally higher rates of mental illness, along with the tech, media and legal industries.

Cassim says that factors such as the intensiveness, isolation, pressure and exhaustion of construction work can often play a role. The sector being male dominated also plays a role.

Dr Andrew Arena is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Workplace Mental Health Research Team at the Black Dog Institute, Australia’s largest and most influential research team working in the area of workplace mental health. Dr Arena recently led a large survey of construction and utilities workers across Australia, which found that one in four workers had high symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

The survey also found that 25 per cent of workers who needed mental health support never accessed it.

“Rates of help-seeking tend to be low in male-dominated industries like construction, where stigma around mental health issues remains quite high,” says Dr Arena.

Marshall says the Black Dog Institute’s research focused approach was a big tick for Fulton Hogan, who were looking for a partner that could influence systematic change.

“We do see lots of really great work going on, but we needed to look for something that was different to what we’ve seen before. Conversations and talks can be moving and we can resonate with what we’re being told, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t moving us from A to B,” she says.

Marshall adds that employee participation and interest has been really encouraging as both organisations work to further grow their existing partnership.


 

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“The whole partnership is about doing something that was industry changing. It’s enticing from an employee value proposition,” she says. “Our employees really engage and understand why we partner with the Black Dog Institute. 

“They’re absolutely engaged during fundraising activities and are really supportive and want to have that conversation and make a difference. That’s why this partnership came about.”

Humphrey says the benefits and impact of the partnership have been clear to see.

“On both sides of the partnership, there’s a real hunger to affect change across the entire industry. We understand that this is an industry-wide problem, not just something that affects our organisation,” he says.

“Irrespective of whether it’s the Black Dog Institute or Fulton Hogan, we have a fundamental obligation to look out for people in our industry. We have a long way to go as an industry, but we are getting better. And as leaders in the industry, we need to be doing better.”

Cassim says the Black Dog Institute has on-going partnerships with companies across a variety of industries. Each play an important role in increasing the organisation’s researching capacity and capability.

“One of the reasons why these types of partnerships are really important is that we’re able to get direct access to industries where typically workers don’t report on their mental health or might not be able to identify the signs. It’s a brilliant way to reach a new audience who might not engage in discussions around mental health,” Cassim says.

“The Fulton Hogan partnership is powerful because we can access a part of their cultural ecosystem. It’s also really important because Fulton Hogan and some of our other partners fund the work that we do. That’s incredibly important to our success and long-term viability.”

One of the shining lights of Fulton Hogan and the Black Dog Institute’s partnership has been the agreement to develop an online mental health solution for construction workers that provides practical ways for workers to improve their mental health.
As Humphrey explains.

“Through the partnership we recognised that there was an absence of a coherent app that speaks to construction workers about mental health and provides impactful advice on their lifestyle, working life and personal life. Based on previous evidence, we anticipate that the app or other solution will provide practical guidance on opportunities to improve your mental health, whether that’s through seeking help, lifestyle changes and more,” he says.

 “When we looked at health and wellness apps and initiatives in the past, we realised that they didn’t account for the nature of our workforce and sector, as well as the prevalence of mental health issues in the industry.”

The solution will build on findings from the existing ‘Headgear’ app, which includes a 30-day mental fitness challenge. 

Cassim says the Headgear trial showed pleasing results, with users of the app reducing their depressive symptoms over the course of the trial, compared to people who weren’t using the app.

“It’s one of the first apps in the world that has shown an evidence-based reduction in depression. We both wanted to have real action on the back of this partnership and the this new initiative forms a strong part of that focus,” he says.

The new solution will be developed in the coming months, and is intended to be rolled out across the sector. 

“This is a really exciting development,” Cassim says. “Our aim is to make a positive difference for construction workers, especially on site. That’s what we’ve been working towards for the last three years and that’s really our north star in terms of this partnership.” 

Marshall says the potential impact on individual life is the fundamental reason for the partnership.

“Sometimes as businesses and leaders we can have big, audacious goals, that take a long time to achieve, but for me when it comes to mental health, if we can positively impact one employee, then it makes all of the hard work worth it,” she says.

“That’s the main thing that drives me, is the possibility of saving someone’s life. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people in our company and our industry. That’s why we do it.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty with mental health, reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on the Black Dog Institute, visit: blackdoginstitute.org.au 

This article was originally published in the May edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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