CYP Design & Construction Joint Venture’s approach on Victoria’s Metro Tunnel Project is a masterclass in prioritising mental health in large-scale construction projects.
The Metro Tunnel Project heralds a new era in Victorian public transport by connecting the Sunbury train line in the west to Cranbourne/Pakenham line in the southeast through new twin-tunnels under the city. As part of creating a safe and cohesive workplace, CYP Design & Construction Joint Venture (CYP D&C) turned to Mental Health First Aid® (MHFA™) training to establish its Workplace Wellbeing Network (WWN) across the project.
CYP Design & Construction Joint Venture (CYP D&C) is a consortium of three construction giants – John Holland, Bouygues and Lendlease – responsible for building the twin nine-kilometre rail tunnels and five underground stations as part of the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne.
A project of this scale and complexity can take a toll on its people, and the CYP D&C team knew that the risks didn’t end with physical health and safety. Research shows that construction workers are six times more likely to take their lives than to die through workplace accidents and men in the construction industry are more than two times more likely to take their lives than other employed men in Australia.
CYP’s Independent Workplace Wellbeing Network Coordinator David Cronin notes that, despite the high rates of suicide in the industry, the primary focus on safety in large-scale construction projects has historically been on the high-risk physical environments.
“There is often not a lot of room to speak about and create a systematic approach to mental health, wellbeing and psychological safety.”
CYP D&C set out to confront that challenge head-on. MHFA training provided the skills to deliver on the WWN mission: for every worker, no matter who they are or where they work, to feel safe to reach out and have a mental health support conversation if in need.
Addressing the challenges of large-scale construction projects
As one of Australia’s largest transport infrastructure projects, the Metro Tunnel is considered a “megaproject”. The CYP D&C workforce has relied on the collaboration of a culturally diverse workforce, with upwards of 4,000 workers at its peak, servicing multiple worksites and comprising over a dozen different nationalities. With three corporations merging into one and specialist teams flying in from as far as France, there was an immediate and ongoing need to form and reform teams across diverse organisational and cultural backgrounds.
There were several other challenges identified from the outset, with staff needing to combat the pressures of a fast-paced environment, significant safety challenges, limited access to daylight while working underground, low psychological safety, long work hours over a rotating roster, and 24-hour on-call commitments for offsite workers. A large portion of the workforce were separated from their usual support networks and on top of this, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought even more complications as teams were forced to isolate and adapt to situations outside of their control.
CYP D&C recognised the need for preparation, prevention and early intervention. The project team knew that long hours, high job demands, physical labour, homesickness, isolation and cultural barriers – all while forming new working teams across three companies with distinct management styles – required a level of interdependence that would challenge even the strongest, most seasoned workforce.
In 2020, the project team introduced a working group comprised of internal and external stakeholders to define the culture they wanted to achieve, highlight suicide and poor mental health risks as a focal point for protective measures, and to focus on promoting wellbeing literacy. Over a two-day session, they identified a goal of creating a cohesive, healthy working environment empowered by connection and practical support forming the foundations of the Workplace Wellbeing Network’s Mental Health and Wellbeing program.
CYP D&C engaged independent workplace wellbeing consultant and MHFA Master Instructor, David Cronin, and Principal MHFA Master Trainer, Dr. Lee Naylor, to train the workforce in Mental Health First Aid.
“Mental Health First Aid training is a true example of the complex challenges that can exist in megaprojects, identifying the barriers such as cultural change and leaving a legacy that shows what can be achieved with the Mental Health First Aid Network.”
– David Drummond, CYP D&C People & Safety Director
Building a framework for improved mental health
For CYP D&C, MHFA training acts as a baseline of communication and understanding, while at the same time contributes towards an increase in psychological safety between its diverse teams. It is now seen as the jewel in the crown of their Workplace Wellbeing Network systematic approach, achieving tremendous results in equipping their workforce with better mental health literacy.
Having diverse representation of staff involved in the training across cultures, genders, worksites, levels of seniority and workforce disciplines has been instrumental in dismantling barriers to the disclosure and acceptance of mental health conversations. This has also helped CYP D&C ensure that a trusted and trained Mental Health First Aider™ is always nearby.
In an industry that has long struggled with low mental health literacy, this representation plays a huge role in helping to change the story about mental health in construction. Nearly 400 people, or 10 per cent of the Metro Tunnel Project workforce, have been trained in MHFA – with training to continue over the lifespan of the project.
Discussing mental illness, while still difficult, is now far more normalised. The trained staff and workforce have held regular forums and sessions to invite further discussion of mental health and wellbeing related topics. Where conversations like these were once taboo, construction workers are now contributing their lived experience, recognising this not as a weakness, rather an opportunity to give others a safe space to do the same, while reducing stigma and increasing awareness in their workplace.
Internal research conducted by CYP D&C found that 90 per cent of participants said the MHFA training was extremely helpful in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of others, and 70 per cent said it was extremely helpful in supporting their own mental health and wellbeing. Most of the Mental Health First Aid Officers also reported using their skills on a weekly basis.
David Cronin says the shift in attitudes toward the MHFA training has been enormous. Staff and workforce who were once hesitant to complete the training due to time and other pressures are now saying it was the best training they have ever done – and wished they had done it years ago.
Lou Ranzolin, Building General Superintendent – West Precinct, credits the success of the program to the two Licensed MHFA Instructors. Lou says that David and Lee mastered the delicate balance between sharing information, facilitating personal discussions and offering support when needed to create a warm and secure environment where everyone felt comfortable. Taking this support and safe space out of the training room and onto the project was also important, with David coordinating the program and ongoing discussions in the field.
Now recognised as a Skilled Workplace in the MHFA Workplace Recognition Program, CYP D&C is also the first megaproject in Australia to achieve this recognition and hopes to see this approach adopted by other major projects.
Forging a path for the broader construction industry
Dr. David Drummond, CYP D&C People & Safety Director and key sponsor of the WWN initiative, sees the value that Mental Health First Aid training can offer.
“This venture is a true example of the complex challenges that can exist in megaprojects, identifying the barriers such as cultural change and leaving a legacy that shows what can be achieved with the Mental Health First Aid Network.”
“We’ve had construction managers, supervisors, engineers, general superintendents, safety professionals along with skilled trades and general workforce complete the training. These projects are high pressure, with strong financial imperatives and complex contracting structures that rarely have mental health concerns embedded in the design.”
“It’s shining a light on the complexity of the megaproject, creating a model and helping other organisations to develop and grow in this space.”
For more information on how to apply Mental Health First Aid training to your workplace, head to MHFA for Workplaces.