August is Tradies National Health Month. An essential awareness campaign, because in Australia, our “tradies” make up a strong percentage of the workforce; 9% and 6.8% of Australians working in construction and manufacturing, respectively. Despite this, tradies represent 58% of serious injury claims. This means the rate of incidence is three times that of other occupations.
One can expect that the physically demanding, manual nature of the work and the dangers working around tools and equipment and heights on construction sites are likely contributing risk factors to occupational injuries and diseases.
However, a 2019 national survey of more than 800 construction tradespeople showed that, while attitudes toward health and safety have improved amongst workers, they’re still more inclined to take better care of their tools and vehicle than their body and mind.
Tradie attitudes towards workplace injuries and self-care
In the same survey, 21% of workers reported they’d think someone was a bit soft if they complained about being sore from a physically demanding job (twice as high as those thinking someone was soft for needing a day off for their mental health; 10%). The general belief system (69%) appears to be, that injuries and soreness are part and parcel with this line of work.
Despite recognising the physical demands on their body, only 24% stretch or warm up before starting work and only 58% reported they would stop doing something if it felt bad (meaning the rest push their body past healthy limits). Nearly a quarter said they didn’t seek help from a professional for their injury and as a result, had a longer recovery time.
Of the tradies who have been injured on the job, 57% reported they took time off due to the injury, which resulted in financial strain (42%) and strain on work relationships and commitments (39%). Further, in this same 2019 survey, almost a quarter said that as a result of their injury, they experienced mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, though not all feel comfortable speaking up about it to their boss or colleagues.
Could the macho male toughness culture be to blame?
The danger of “she’ll be right”
It’s not just physical health that needs a better self-care regime. Experts are presently concerned about the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and employment, construction being one of the bigger hit industries. Covid’s been testing everyone’s resilience. Yet, the prevalent ‘she’ll be right’ culture makes it difficult for many men to speak up about their mental health or seek help or treatment.
Alarmingly, around the world, suicide rates among those employed in blue collar occupations, such as construction, are higher than those in other occupational groups. In a 2016 report, an Australian study found that male construction workers have suicide rates 84% higher than non-construction workers (2001-2013 study period). Much is being done in this space to try and reverse that trend.
Tradies must look after their health and wellbeing
Tradies are already working in a high occupational risk environment; not just physically demanding, but the pressures of long hours, project deadlines and financial strain resulting from time off work in recovery. It’s imperative you look after mental health as well as physical health; prevention is key. It will help ensure you’re staying fit and well, doing a good job, and enjoying your life outside of work.
You can learn more about the importance of good self-care and how to better look after your physical health at work with the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
You can also check out our 5 self-care tips to help you prepare for your time on site and outside of work.
There are several organisations dedicated to helping Australians, and tradesmen, with mental ill health. If you, or someone you know, needs help, visit:
- Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au or 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au or 1300 224 636
- Black Dog Institute: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
- MensLine Australia: mensline.org.au
- Gotcha4Life: www.gotcha4life.org
- Mates in Construction: mates.org.au