Under construction: Building new industry standards

More than 1.2 million construction workers across Australia are being urged to have their say on a new Culture Standard to make the industry a safer, more productive, and attractive place to work.

Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT) Chair, Gabrielle Trainor AO, said the industry has long been a leader in physical safety, but is lagging behind other industries when it comes to systematically tackling the alarming rates of stress, family dislocation, mental ill-health and suicide among construction workers.”

“There are many great achievements of the construction industry, but they come at a huge, largely hidden cost in the wellbeing of our workers and their families and they perpetuate a harmful culture.

“Many Australians aren’t aware of the pressures workers are under due to long hours, tight timeframes and a gaping skills shortage threatening the timely delivery of projects across the nation,” Ms Trainor said.

To address these issues, construction workers across the sector are now being asked to take part in the largest industry consultation of its kind, with a focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of Australian construction workers who are over six times more likely to die from suicide than from a workplace accident.

“Together with the Australian Constructors Association, industry leaders, government and academia, we have developed a draft Culture Standard that puts everything on the table from reducing excessive work hours, improving diversity, attracting new talent and making mental health a priority,” Ms Trainor said. “All these issues are interwoven and need to be tackled together to make a difference.”

Key elements of the draft Culture Standard include:

  • Wellbeing – prioritise the mental and occupational health of the workforce through programs such as resilience training and suicide prevention, providing ‘mental health first aiders’ on site and creating program schedules that prioritise worker wellbeing.


  • 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.


  • Time for Life – ensure workers 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 weekends, as is presently the case.


“With 105,000 additional workers needed by 2023 to support Australia’s record $150 billion infrastructure pipeline, addressing these issues will be central to retain and attract new talent.

“The construction sector makes up almost 10 per cent of the Australian workforce but is losing an estimated $8 billion annually because its culture is not up to scratch. As we emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns, we need to urgently make the necessary changes needed to retain and attract workers and address the productivity of the industry to rebuild our economy.”

CEO of the Australian Constructors Association, Jon Davies, said the construction industry will be key to the economic recovery of the country but needs to change.

“If we want to keep our workers safe, attract new talent and keep pace with the growing demand in infrastructure, we need to tackle the big issues that have plagued our industry for decades,” Mr Davies said.

“That begins with a national standard embedded in every job site that calls out bad behaviour, lifts the low rates of women entering our industry and removes the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

“We can do this by working hand in glove with workers, listening to their feedback and putting it into action.”

The Standard is expected to be finalised by the end of this year and implementation pilots are due to start in NSW and Victoria in 2022, with other states and territories expected to follow soon after. Once finalised, it is intended that the Culture Standard will apply through the procurement process to all construction companies working on government infrastructure projects in the same way as the requirements for Indigenous and local employment targets.

Have your say on the draft Culture Standard by visiting: 360.cultureinconstruction.com.au

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