Study into Construction Worker Psychological Harm

A study conducted earlier this year will be helpful to employers and principal contractors within the construction industry in dealing with emotional stress of workers. This is important because in the long run emotional stress affects worker’s health and negatively impacts productivity. Therefore combating psychological harm is in the best interest of employers as well as employers and customers.

Australian academics and WHS regulators have joined forces to help identify and manage workplace risks to the psychological health of workers. A study has discovered that the risk of psychological harm among construction workers is better controlled if decisions are made early about exactly what practical solutions will be used on site to prevent, eliminate or minimise the causes. The People at Work Project analysed data from 424 construction workers who participated in the survey from sites across Queensland.

Something that the study made crystal clear is that planning is key not only when dealing with physical hazards but when attempting to control the risks of psychological harm to workers, this is after all also a part of an employer’s legal duty according to the WH&S Act.

The study also revealed that control measures aimed at helping workers simply cope with stress aren’t adequate in addressing the risks in the construction industry. Researchers recommended that control measures be introduced at organisational levels, dealing with job design, work environment and working conditions, basically attempting to combat psychological problems at the root, before they even begin rather than dealing with the already developed, compounded issue.

The organisers also discovered that 6 basic risk factors increased the risks associated with psychological harm among workers and construction workers in particular. Unsurprisingly conflict between workers and supervisors featured high on the list. We’ve all experienced those supervisors who are capable of making our lives a living hell, according to researchers, promoting emotional conflict, tension and overall bad feelings at work.

Another risk factor which isn’t very surprising is “high role overload”. Workers who have unachievable deadlines and are required to work longer hours without sufficient break time are at risk of suffering severe psychological harm.

One of the risks that may not have been anticipated by employers is that of “high role ambiguity”. When workers aren’t sure of their work goals and objectives or are unclear of what is expected of them are more likely to suffer emotional stress.

Some of the other risk factors include:

  • high emotional demand(being required to hide feelings and not state opinions)

  • strong project contract pressures (the pressure related to contract demands, timeframes and budgets)

  • strong pressure to accept work (the pressure to accept work or contracts as they arose, as well as the pressure to miss rostered days off and public holidays).

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The researchers also provided a list of 6 factors which were identified as helpers to construction workers in coping with stress inducers, these conversely stress the importance of workers knowing their roles and what’s expected of them, high support from co-workers and supervisors as well as having some control over their job tasks. The post goes on to explain more of these positive factors:

  • high job control (having some say in the pace and method of completing job tasks)

  • high procedural justice (believing that workplace practices and processes are fair, applied consistently and free of bias)

  • high task interdependency (a reliance on other contractors/workers for information and materials to perform tasks).


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