Study investigates strategies to deal with stress in construction

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An industry study conducted by Site Safe and Massey University’s School of Built Environment has investigated the negative effects of work-related stress on productivity, and the physical and emotional health of construction workers in New Zealand.

The paper, which is the first collaboration under the research Memorandum of Understanding between both organisations, highlights several critical factors that create undue stress among construction workers.

It identifies potential mitigation approaches to reducing stressors, as suggested by workers participating in the study.

Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray says as well as serving as a confirmatory piece, the paper gives insight into the thought patterns and voices of frontline workers who are often unheard in an industry fraught with danger and unsafe practices.

“We operate in a high-risk industry, and trying to bring about a culture of change within health and safety isn’t going to happen overnight,” Murray says.

“By talking directly to workers who face these dangers every day, we can better understand what needs to be done to create safer construction sites.”

Research participants indicated that lack of collaboration, poor communication, and unrealistic time frames and budgets on the job were leading to corner-cutting, and health and safety practices being compromised.

It isn’t just young workers new to the industry either. There appears to be no increasing tolerance to stress over time, with experienced workers of 20 or more years no more immune to workplace stress than their less experienced counterparts.

A supportive working environment, greater empowerment of employees in decision-making processes on-site, and regular workload allocation reviews were common themes in the responses, cited as ways to reduce stress.

Murray concedes that not every suggestion is a workable solution. However, the responses and information in the study form a good basis to progress the discussion further.

“The results of the study clearly reflect the negative influence of stress brought about by an inefficient contracting and supply chain process that creates pressures that are often unable to be resolved by those most impacted.

“That issue has been recognised by initiatives such as the Construction Sector Accord and is, in part, why it is so important that the Accord delivers tangible results.”

The Accord was raised by some study participants as a platform through which issues surrounding unethical behaviours causing added stress — such as being asked to do something unethical on a project — could be addressed.

Murray says there is a strong upside to the industry effectively managing stressors in the workplace.

“We believe that looking after our workers and creating a safer industry can improve productivity, profitability and the industry’s long-term appeal as a career prospect.

“The industry is already inherently stressful, so we need to do everything we can to ensure we’re not adding to that.”

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