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Construction industry focuses on reducing suicide rates

The construction industry has the highest rate of suicides, which is more than any industry in New Zealand – and this is an alarming statistic.

The Canterbury Safety Charter (the Charter), a not-for-profit charitable organization, tackles this issue head-on – thanks to funding from the Rātā Foundation.

The Charter’s Manager Paul Duggan says research shows that if a person works in the construction industry, they are also more likely to die by suicide than by accident on site.

“We put a lot of resources into eliminating accidents, but the real need is in the mental health area and suicide prevention,” Mr Duggan said.

The Charter, which promotes good health and safety practice in the construction industry, addresses the high suicide rates by partnering with MATES In Construction (MATES).

MATES is an evidence-based workplace suicide prevention model, developed to reduce the high suicide rates in the construction industry. The construction industry has stepped forward and supports implementing the MATES in Construction programme onto sites across New Zealand.

Mr Duggan says the Charter is helping MATES to set up a base in Christchurch, so a field officer is available to go on-site and deliver MATES programmes.

The MATES programme follows a three-stage process.

  • First step: Everybody on-site undergoes general awareness training, which teaches workers to look out for signs regarding mental health issues and encourage them to have open conversations with their mates.
  • Second step: Workers take part in connector training, where they learn to connect people who need assistance with the proper agencies.
  • Third step: Workers can undergo training to learn how to assist somebody who is in a very severe need at any particular time.

“This partnership is really about improving the outcomes in the community,” Mr Duggan says.

“Rātā Foundation is enabling us to assist MATES to come down to Christchurch and provide them with the support they need.”

He says the Charter and MATES partnership combined with the generosity of the Rātā Foundation means they are hopeful to see some positive outcomes shortly, including a decline in the number of suicides in the construction sector.

Help raise standards of health and safety across Canterbury Construction. By training Construction workers to be able to have mental health conversations with their workmates, they hope to improve the mental well-being of workers in the Construction industry. CSC aims for the Mates in Construction programme to reduce the incidence of suicide in the construction industry in Canterbury, and the associated impact on the lives of family, friends, co-workers and the community at large.

Rātā Foundation Chief Executive Leighton Evans says this project aligns with Rātā’s Support priorities, particularly ensuring people get the right support for their needs, when they need it.

“It’s really heartening to see the construction industry take a lead in protecting it’s people and their mental wellbeing.  Having someone to talk to on-site who actually understands the rigours of the industry and can help to connect people with the right help is inspiring for other sectors of our community.  Sometimes we all need a friendly face and someone to talk to.”