A culture of hazing and bullying still exists in the Australian construction industry, a problem that is easily and often ignored, but when it is almost always focused on trainees and apprentices, who being new to the industry and perhaps not emotionally prepared for the hostile working environment, the results can be tragic.

Alec, a 16 year old building apprentice began his training in March of 2008 and by October of that same year, had taken his own life, reportedly due to relentless bullying in the workplace.

According to reports, the 16 year old had been on the receiving end of such relentless and violent bullying by his supervisor and workmates that his behaviour changed. He went from a happy and bubbly young man to “a sad, round-shouldered boy” within three months of starting his apprenticeship.

A coronial inquest this week at the Glebe Coroner’s Court is examining the role that the alleged bullying played in his death.

Testimony from friends and family of the young man, allege that from the third day of his apprenticeship, he was verbally abused, physically assault, excluded and isolated, assigned tasks above his skill level, and given no training or assistance.

The alleged main perpetrator of the bullying was the young apprentice’s supervisor, giving him no avenue for reporting the situation or seeking help.

After three months of daily abuse, the young man left his apprenticeship and was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and an adjustment disorder, he was subsequently admitted to a mental ward where his condition seemed to improve. Shortly after being discharged he was successful in taking his own life.

The inquest is ongoing, although thus far it has been found that while the construction company involved did have anti-bullying policies, the alleged bullying behaviour was allowed to continue.

The construction industry being one of the fastest growing in Australia, is going to need a huge influx of skilled labour in the coming years to meet demands, this means attracting and retaining young people in the construction trades. If the industry is to do this, bullying needs to be addressed with the same vigour as other health, safety and hygiene issues are. Bullying is currently covered in the white card course, and it is all employers’ duty of care to provide a safe work environment with anti-bullying policies and avenues of action for effected employees, is this enough? It’s certainly a good start! With improvements in safety culture, awareness and training, tragic cases like Alec’s needn’t be repeated.