Could a five-day week improve the health and human rights of construction workers?
UNSW Sydney researchers are beginning a two-year study into how a reduced work week improves the health and wellbeing of construction workers and their families.
‘Project 5: A Weekend for Every Worker’ will study the workforce at the NSW Government’s $341 million Concord Hospital redevelopment site as they work a Monday to Friday roster.
Australian Human Rights Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Natalie Galea will lead a team of interdisciplinary researchers who will survey and interview workers and their families to find out how having more downtime changes their physical and mental health, and their family life.
“It doesn’t sound like a huge change, but it’s significant for a sector where working Saturdays, and increasingly Sundays, is deeply entrenched,” Dr Galea says.
“In previous research about gender in the construction sector, we heard about the stress and fatigue that comes with the sector’s rigid work practices.
“This research aims to understand more about how existing work practices impact the health and wellbeing of construction workers and their families.”
But Project 5 is not just about improving wellbeing by increasing leisure and family time.
Suicide prevention charity Mates in Construction has found a young construction worker is ten times more likely to die by suicide than die from a workplace accident on a construction site.
Professor Rebecca Ivers, from the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, says it’s critical that research can identify workplace interventions for a sector in Australia where a worker takes their own life every second day.
“We need to learn more about how work practices are impacting the mental health of this workforce; and the construction of a hospital – a place of healthcare and innovation – is a fitting place to begin,” Prof Ivers says.
Dr Ioana Ramia from the Centre for Social Impact says they hoped this research will reveal to construction clients what the usual six-day roster means in real life for their workforce and their families.
“Importantly, it will also provide industry with a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate whether a five-day week is also more productive,” Dr Ramia says.
Project 5: A weekend for every worker is funded by Roberts Pizzarotti and the health facilities construction arm of the NSW Government, Health Infrastructure.
If this story raises concerns for you, please contact Lifeline: 13 11 14, Mens Line: 1300 78 99 78 or Mates in Construction: 1300 642 111.
Update: Project 5 is growing - in May 2020, the study was expanded to include workers on the Liverpool Hospital redevelopment site and Mount Street Project.