CANBERRA, AAP – Long hours on macho worksites, injuries and high rates of suicide in the construction industry are costing the economy nearly $8 billion a year, according to new research.

The Cost of Doing Nothing report released on Thursday estimates the cost of construction fatalities, injuries and illnesses at $6.1 billion in 2018 and the drain on productivity of constant overtime at $708 million.

People working in construction are twice as likely to commit suicide than the national average.

The cost of mental ill-health was estimated at $643 million and the cost of a higher incidence of male construction worker suicides compared to other industries was $533 million.

Reform was “critical” before COVID-19 but has become even more urgent from the strain of ongoing pandemic disruptions, the head of the Australian Constructors Association, Jon Davies, said.

Nearly a quarter of people employed in construction work more than 50 hours per week, which puts a strain on family life and adds to conflict, the report by BIS Oxford Economics found.

Construction is the most male-dominated industry in Australia, with women making up only 12 per cent of the workforce.

Benefits of having more women in the industry would include decreasing aggressive behaviour and bullying, improved attention to detail and better communication, the researchers said.

The report was commissioned by the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce, which brings together the construction association, workplace researchers and the NSW and Victorian governments.

“These issues must be addressed now,” Mr Davies said.

The taskforce is working on a new “culture standard” to clean up behaviour, attract different people to the industry and make people safer at work.

The construction industry employs 1.2 million people, or nearly 10 per cent of the Australian workforce.

The sector is also facing a labour shortage with more than 100,000 additional workers needed by 2023 to deliver the infrastructure pipeline.

“It’s unsustainable to keep going the way we are,” taskforce chair Gabrielle Trainor said.

The standard is expected to be finalised by the end of this year and pilots will start in NSW and Victoria in 2022, with other states and territories to follow.

  • The standard is expected to apply to all construction companies working on government infrastructure projects.