31 July 2014
Featured project: Work health in the Queensland construction industry
In 2013, RMIT won a competitive tender to undertake a participatory action research project to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion strategies in the Queensland construction industry.
Client: Queensland Government Department of Justice and Attorney-General
Project partner: Lend Lease Foundation Australia
Research timeframe: November 2013 - May 2015.
Construction workers’ health
Compared to other blue collar workers, construction workers suffer a high incidence of physical health complaints and mental distress. Health is a critical determinant of sustained workforce participation, productivity and performance. There is an urgent need to introduce strategies to help construction and maintenance workers to achieve healthy and productive lifetime outcomes. Specific challenges experienced by workers include:
- tight production schedules, with financial penalties for time overruns resulting in long and non-standard hours
- low levels of job control, fatigue and insufficient opportunity to recover from work (which have all been linked to poor health)
- demanding physical work as well as exposure to hazardous materials and ultra-violet radiation, which increases the risk of musculoskeletal, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and skin neoplasma
- a heavy reliance on subcontracting and casual employment, which can reduce access to paid sick leave and make recovery from injury and illness harder, and
- hyper-masculine work cultures, which can encourage unhealthy behaviour and stigmatise workers who seek help.
The research project
Research is underway to implement and evaluate health promotion interventions in the Queensland construction industry.
In 2013, RMIT was successful in winning a competitive tender to undertake a participatory action research project to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion strategies in the Queensland construction industry. This research is being funded by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (Qld) and is being undertaken in partnership with Lend Lease Australia.
Baseline data about workers’ health has been collected at two participating sites. In consultation with workers, health strategies have been implemented and are being evaluated at these sites. These include:
- a quit smoking support program (offered to workers and their families)
- healthy eating strategies, including healthy food options in site canteens, the provision of fresh fruit, free healthy food preparation demonstrations, tasting sessions, recipes and give-aways
- health awareness presentations on topics such as diabetes prevention
- fitness development strategies, including subsidised gym memberships, yoga/ physical stretching sessions on site and participation in an eight week ‘walk around the world’ competition, and
- skin cancer checks (provided on site for all workers).
Evaluation workshops will soon be held to investigate the effectiveness of the strategies. The research will also identify organisational and environmental factors that supported the take-up of the health strategies, or acted as barriers to their effectiveness. The research results will provide an evidence-base that will inform the policy and practice in improving construction workers’ health and wellbeing.