Mental wellness in the construction sector
Suicide rates within New Zealand's Construction Industry are higher than first thought – but the MATES in Construction programme is already making a positive difference.
Research by MATES in Construction into New Zealand's shockingly high number of suicides by workers in the building and construction industries has found that the suicide rate is even higher than first thought, because several major categories of workers were missed out of the original research data.
Dreadful statistics of suicide in the sector
Speaking to a 22 October webinar hosted by the Construction Sector Accord, MATES CEO Victoria McArthur said since the programme was initiated in New Zealand ten months ago it has carried out new research into why suicide is so much more prevalent in the building and construction sector than in any other employment sector in New Zealand.
"We discovered that the real rate was about 54 suicides per 100,000 people in the building and construction sector, higher than the data that was available before MATES began its research. MATES in Construction, the Construction Sector Accord and the industry as a whole are throwing everything they can at reducing this dreadful statistic."
Powerful mix of stresses contributing to statistics
The webinar discussed the reasons behind the high levels of suicide in the construction industry.
MATES Case Manager Gloria Vetekina said research pointed to several factors that exacerbated risk in the industry.
"One, its male dominated. Men tend to suicide more often than women. We know this is because men's culture can still shame them into not talking openly about feelings and emotions. There's often no discussion about deeply personal things among men at work.
"Couple that with other factors such as a high alcohol and drug use in the industry, very long hours, a lack of job security that is endemic throughout the industry and the financial pressures that come from that, and you have a powerful mix of stresses that can make normal 'life events' such as a family death, relationship breakup, money problems and so on, seem so much more worse."
Encouraging signs of MATES success
McArthur and other MATES workers in New Zealand, along with industry representatives speaking to the seminar, all said there were a lot of encouraging signs the programme was already working in New Zealand, even though it has only been active since late 2019.
Representatives from industry players Naylor Love, Watercare and Kāinga Ora who participated in the webinar all said they were receiving amazing feedback from construction site workers about the effectiveness of the MATES programmes being rolled out on work sites throughout New Zealand.
Giving freedom to workers to speak openly and seek help
Overwhelmingly, all of the speakers agreed, the key result of the MATES programme was the freedom it gave workers to speak openly, seeking and offering help and sharing their experiences of the unique stresses associated with working in the construction and building industry.
"It's taken the lid off a culture of secrecy and shame," said MATES Field Officer Slade McFarland. "Undoubtedly, MATES has already saved lives . . . this is the feedback we have been getting and what we are seeing and hearing on worksites every day."
Fellow MATES Field Officer Ritchie Hepi said the MATES programme was strengthening the sense of whanau among workers on construction sites and empowering people to speak out. Taboo subjects such as mental illness, financial struggles, relationship breakups and other 'life events' were beginning to be shared in discussion groups, and within everyday conversations among co-workers, allowing colleagues to offer help and stressed people to seek help more easily.
Hepi told the webinar that he was keen to see more women in construction . . . "at the worksite, boots 'n' all, not just back in the office." He said his observation was that wherever construction sites had women workers, the sense of whanau was stronger and normally silent men were more likely to open up and say what was happening in their lives.
Naylor Love General Manager People and Culture Pam McGarry said the MATES programme had been received well across the construction company's sites. "We have had a lot of staff offer to be volunteers to help deliver MATES across all our sites, and that includes sub-contractor staff, not just our own team. She said people had been prompted to share their own stories of mental health struggles and that had inspired others to speak out."
McGarry's experience was echoed by Bronwyn Struthers, Head of Health Safety and Wellness from Watercare, who said that the programme built the confidence of supervisors to both identify the signs someone was struggling and also the best way to offer help. She said MATES was creating a strong sense of family on work sites.
Contributing to major culture change
Georgina Ellis, Building Social Outcomes Lead from Kāinga Ora – New Zealand's largest building services purchaser – said that the housing provider had picked up on the MATES programme from the beginning ten months ago and it was contributing to a major change of culture among the staff of contractors and sub-contractors at building worksites.
"MATES empowers the workers to have conversations. That really is its most powerful achievement . . . it is changing the culture of silence and allowing men to speak openly, share their stories, encourage other, seek and offer help.
"The feedback from our worksites throughout the country has been overwhelmingly positive. We're hearing that MATES has already helped a number of people who might otherwise have joined the sad statistics of suicide in this industry."
This webinar was recorded on 22 October 2020. It includes speakers from MATES in Construction and representatives from Naylor Love, Watercare and Kāinga Ora.
Watch the full webinar(external link) - https://vimeo.com
This video is a direct recording of the webinar, which includes footage of the speakers as they talk. There are no PowerPoint slides or other visual elements in the recording.
Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining us for the Construction Sector Accord "Improving mental wellness and reducing suicide in the construction industry". My name is Graham Burke, and I'm a member of the Construction Sector Accord Steering Group. I'm also co-leader of the Accord's People Development Work Stream. And I'm a member of the board of CHASNZ, Construction, Health and Safety New Zealand.
We know that the construction sector has a high rate of suicide. And as an industry, we need to take ownership of what's happening. And we need to drive change through a shared vision for what's a better mental health and suicide prevention strategy. Today, you'll hear from leaders from MATES in Construction suicide prevention initiative, about why our sector needs an industry wide approach to suicide prevention, and what is happening at a grassroots level. You're also going to hear industry representatives talk about work that they've implemented working with MATES in Construction. The Construction Sector Accords health and safety and well being work stream supports and promotes MATES in Construction and their suicide prevention initiative.
At the end of the webinar, we'll show you an email where you can actually send any questions you may have. We'll also put up the mates, 0800 number and the information on the roadshows that they're running. We're really proud to partner with MATES in Construction to bring you this webinar. And I'd now like to introduce Victoria McArthur and Gloria Vetekina from MATES in Construction.
Hi, I'm Victoria. I'm the CEO of MATES in Construction. And I'd like to thank you for joining us today whilst we have a conversation about suicide prevention, and mental health in the construction industry.
Hello, I'm Gloria. I'm the Case Manager, Programme Developer for MATES in Construction.
Thank you for having us here today.
Can you tell me when MATES in construction was launched in New Zealand?
Yeah. So MATES in Construction came to New Zealand in August of last year, where I was appointed as the CEO of MATES. But we started delivering in November of last year, so we've only been around for nine, 10 months. And in the middle of that, obviously, we've struck COVID. So we haven't been around for too long. But we come off the back of a programme that was developed in Australia, been around since 2008. We're pretty well independent to Australia, we talk to them, they're our mates over there, but we are a wholly owned New Zealand organisation, we've got our own governance board.
And we're here because industry asked us to come to New Zealand to help them with the suicide problem that we've seen in our industry, and to help them mitigate some of the problems that we're seeing.
And what was the main purpose of setting up MATES in construction here?
So the main purpose of our organisation is that we're here to save lives, that's what we're all about. And that's what MATES in Construction is about. How we go about doing that is by enabling people to help themselves. So we go out onto site to build capacity in our workforce. It's a whole industry approach to what we do. So when we're out on site, we're building the capacity of all the workers that are out there on a site, that becomes a family, and it becomes their community. And what we're doing is we're enabling them, we're giving them the tools to actually help themselves, and also seek help themselves.
So that can be the help seeking behaviours or help offering behaviours, if you want to term it like that. And what we're doing is giving everybody the ability to be able to acknowledge when they need some support.
Why does the construction sector need an organisation like MATES in Construction?
This came about back in probably 2016, to start to look at what was happening. Off the back of the suicide mortality review committee report that was done at that time, they identified that they had a far greater rate of suicide when looking at other industries across New Zealand. So, that's when the work started to actually bring MATES in Construction over to New Zealand. It was the industry that identified it. It's been the industry that's funded it, it's been the industry that's driven having MATES over here, so we've got good buy-in from industry.
In 2018, there was another piece of research that was undertaken by Site Safe, it was funded by BRANZ. And what they did during that piece of research was start to look at the prevalence of suicide in our industry, some of the factors that were causing people to take their lives. Since then, MATES obviously launched in 2019. And at the beginning of this year, we started to, again, do a bit more of a deep dive into some of that data. We're trying to identify who it actually is in our industry that we're losing.
So what we did was we started to gather some information from Coronial Services around those that we were losing to suicide. What it actually has thrown up is that those that we're losing are far greater than we originally thought. And that's because there were quite a number of occupations that were excluded from those initial pieces of data. So people like our labourers, a lot of our engineers weren't accounted for in the data that has previously been done.
So, at the moment, we're thinking provisionally that we're looking around per 100,000 workers, we're losing about 54 per 100,000. But what we're doing at MATES in Construction, is we have just commissioned Otago University to help us look at that data. Again, BRANZ has got behind us and are funding this piece of research. And at the moment, we're going through an engagement piece with industry to actually define who it is we're going to be looking at when we look at this data.
So we're looking at all those occupations of people that fall within our industry, and identify for the purpose of this research, who it is that we're going to be looking at and what those people were doing, what societal factors have impeded them. And also, what interventions we can put in place when we find out what is actually going on for our industry.
So, can the construction sector actually save lives from suicide?
So MATES in Construction can definitely help people save lives. What we're here to do is to create that whole industry approach to saving lives. So when we go on site, we build the capacity of that site. And we build the capacity from two sides, we build the capacity for people to help seek themselves to actually reach out to MATES, and to their mates. So when I talk about MATES, I talk about the organisation, mates or to their mates on site and actually say, "I'm struggling here, and I need some help." We also are promoting that help offering behaviours.
So we're saying to our people in the industry, and this is everybody in the industry, it's not just the guys with the shovels in their hand on site, we're talking about the clients, the architects, everybody that's part of the construction whanau. How you can actually offer help to your mates, how you can actually step into their space and help them when they're struggling. So, yes, we can save lives, but it is going to take all of us working together to do that.
How do you think the conversation about mental health and suicide prevention has changed in the last few years?
I think we're sitting in a good place, and MATES has arrived at a good time in New Zealand. The conversations are happening, and we all know that the conversations are happening because we see others in our society actually having the conversations. People are very uncomfortable about talking about mental health, when you start to have a conversation about suicide, probably, there's a little bit of a barrier that goes up. That's not something people want to discuss.
But what we've seen is there's been a lot of awareness raising, especially around mental health. So people are ready, probably in a better position to have that conversation. But what we haven't seen is good support. So although people are having the conversation and talking and there's more awareness around mental health and suicide prevention, or around suicide itself, what we need to do is have the support.
Unfortunately, with suicide, there's still that stigma around it that you would have had with, say, mental health around 20 years ago. So we've still got a bit of traction to be pushing along. However, I would have to say the industry has been really supportive of what we're doing. And they've been helping to be part of that solution to some extent, which has been really good to see.
Can you tell me a little bit about what the difference is between mental distress and mental illness?
Yeah. Look, mental distress can impact one's mental well being. Mental distress is actually an emotional distress that most people experience throughout their lives. And at some point in their life, they'll go through some stuff. We call these life events, and part of our general awareness training that we deliver onto site. Life events could be some of those things like going through a relationship breakdown, a loss of a family member, a loss of a friend, and financial issues.
Some of these things are life events that we would have probably gone through by the time we were like 30 years of age. If you haven't gone through a few things by the age of 30, you're doing exceptionally well. However, there is a difference between mental distress and what we see out there in our industry, which I'll talk about in a while. Whereas mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that affects your well being, and these are usually diagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder. So these are things that people have been diagnosed with, and it's something that they live with. It doesn't necessarily define who they are, but they've been diagnosed with something that has come under mental illness.
Now, what we do know is over half of those that we've actually lost to suicide in our industry have had no actual history of mental illness, around about 52%, actually. So which means that rather, they're actually struggling to cope with something at a time.
How do we ensure that the right conversations are being had, and at the right time?
Look, I think it comes down to the bigger picture stuff, like Victoria was saying, it's about building that capacity of our programme for our industry to be supporting each other, and giving them the tools to be able to, one, support each other, and two, even to recognise when they're struggling. Having the tools available to them on site out there and everywhere. So even when we go out and do our general awareness training, we will actually provide collateral. We've got pens with our 0800 numbers on them. We really talk about being stronger together as a community. So when we talk about MATES in Construction, being on sites, we've become part of that site. So we'll continue to be on that site from the beginning to the end of their construction. We are actually getting about 80% of everybody on that site through our general awareness training. Through that general awareness training, we give people the space and the opportunity to actually come somewhere and be able to talk openly about what's going on for them.
I mean, just being able to have our programme out there has made a massive difference. We've already had over 7,000 participants go through our general awareness training that provides these basic skills to be able to support, one, each other, and two, for people to understand where they can go for help. I can give you a good example of that, I was working with a guy who actually contacted our helpline, I answered the call. And I said to him, "How did you find out about us?"
He goes, "I saw a couple of your big guys delivering the GAT training at our job today. And I thought, you know what if they can get up there and talk about suicide and mental health..." He said, for the first time in his life, he felt that it was okay to actually reach out and ask for help. This guy was a Maori male in his mid 50s. And so, if we can go out there and promote something like that, just by doing what we're doing, and even essentially helping lives, that's the big thing for us.
Why do you think the suicide rate in our sector is so high?
Look, we've covered a fair bit of it. But there are some things that are different about occupations, such as the long working hours, culture of not allowing discussion of problems, a culture of heavy alcohol and drug use, a male dominated industry, lack of job security. I mean, nobody whips themselves out of a job as well as we do in our industry. There actually is a lot of high bullying behaviours and there's evidence around there as well, and financial pressures.
These on top of what we called before, the life events, everyday life events, or what we're talking about the distress before, you put those together and the impact is what is different in our occupation compared to other occupations, especially in Aotearoa, and even across Australia as well.
I mean, I would add to that, that those behaviours that Gloria's talking about don't just occur on site. The pressures that our guys and girls are feeling out there on site are not isolated to the sites. So that's why this is a whole industry that needs to look at how we're going to address some of the behaviours and some of the factors that are taking too many lives.
Gloria, what do you do as a case manager for MATES in Construction?
So my role essentially, is when people have been either self-referred into our programme, or they're being referred by someone else, I will actually catch up with them, hear what their narrative is or their story, find out exactly what is causing them that distress in their lives, or whether it's mental illness, either way. And find out how we can navigate these people and these individuals that are struggling into support?
Look, it could be that they just need to have a chat. They've never talked to someone before, and they just want to have a conversation. But then it can be to the other extreme where they're actually persistently thinking about suicide. And so, it's just about trying to do a bit of an assessment, where are they sitting across that board, and what can we do as MATES to help them navigate into the right supports?
So a lot of the time, the support that we're navigating them into is what's going on in the public sector. It could be our community sector, it could be our GP, it could be financial support, it could also be court support, it could be around, just, "I need some relationship counselling," or, "I just need some counselling." So we spend a fair bit of time as case managers navigating them into the correct support.
There's a lot of barriers that are stopping our guys and girls from going into that space of improving well being. We spend a lot of time educating them as to why you need to, it's a long term thing. How can we work with you to try and make things work better for you? Encouraging them to take those steps to invest in themselves, because they still need to be like myself, is starting to be a mother, a partner, a worker. And there's so many hats that we have to wear as individuals when we're out there on the day, and being able to keep that up on a daily basis can be really hard.
So if you're not looking after yourself during that process of life and adulting, we are going to fall over a few times. So we need to have been looking at our well being as a forefront, as an individual so we can keep doing what we need to be doing.
Gloria is pretty passionate about this stuff, as you can see. And look, it is something that we need to address because, like Gloria says, a lot of our guys can't get access to those services. Financially, they can't get access to the services. We refer through to EAP everywhere we can, so we're not replacing any of those services out there. But people need to engage with those services, and that's what Gloria is incredibly good at, is getting people to engage and stay engaged.
Victoria, what do you think we need to do next?
We've got a lot to do. We've only been, like I said, around for 10 months, and have had COVID in the middle of it. At the moment, we're seeing a desperate need for our services that's escalated over the last even six to eight weeks. We've noticed an increase in people seeking help from MATES. And that's twofold. One is we've come out of the pandemic again, or we went back into lockdown, we've come back out of lockdown. There's a lot of anger, a lot of confusion, and a lot of stress out there.
There's a bit of uncertainty as to what's going to happen next, there's a lot more awareness that MATES has actually arrived. So if you go around Auckland, where we are at the moment, you'll see a lot of MATES stickers, people are understanding what we're here to do, and feeling comfortable about asking for help. So what MATES is very good at is going and building that capacity on sites, like we've said, we're building the capacity, we're giving the guys the tools that we are seeing, and they're demonstrating that help seeking and help offering behaviour, which is what we're here to do.
We're getting our connectors on site, so we're getting some eyes and ears on site. We're getting our assistant trained people out there in our industry, our field offices are becoming part of that fabric of the sites. They're in the lunch rooms, they're getting to know their guys really well, so they're becoming very familiar faces. So even in that short time that we've been here, we've achieved a huge amount for our workers in our industry. But what comes next is we can't stop there, we are building the capacity, we're doing the research, we're getting a better understanding as to what our industry needs.
But we can do this, as I say, till the cows come home, we can carry on building this capacity and enabling our guys to seek that help. But if we don't make some behavioural changes, as an industry, this is going to go on forever. We've been like this for a very long time. This industry is a fantastic industry, but we're not very good at changing and moderating our wrong behaviour. So what we will do is build the capacity at the ground on the sites, but we've also got an awful lot of people that don't sit on site that sit in offices that work professionally in our industry as well. And I need that group as well to start looking at what we need to do to change the way that we go about doing what we do out there on site.
So the next piece that we need to do is from the top down, as well as the bottom up, if you want to call a site the bottom. It's the ground level if you like. If we're doing it on site, let's look at what we should be doing from the top. My piece is that I want to work with the industry leaders, just like the Construction Sector Accord, that's why it was brilliant that you guys have asked us to talk to you today.
Because we need to take ownership of what we're doing, this is happening on our watch. And if we don't start changing those behaviours now and we don't start doing something about it, it's going to be happening well beyond my days at MATES. And they'll be somebody else sitting here in another 10 years trying to figure out what we need to do. So we need to take action now or those figures, those stats that I'm quoting, are going to keep going up.
Welcome Slade McFarlane and Richard Hepi. Both of you are field managers at MATES in Construction and do a great job.
Kia ora, everybody. My name's Richard Hepi, I'm a field officer for MATES in Construction, based in Auckland.
Hello, it's Slade MacFarlane here. I'm also a field officer here in Auckland. Just doing our thing.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your role is in MATES in Construction?
Our role here with MATES, it's all about trying to connect with our men. We're trying to reduce the stigma of doing this quality or silent for ourselves in regards to emotionally dealing with our own problems. Our role is really to try and uplift our men to actually say "Hey, it's okay to have feelings, to have emotions, and just be a little bit more self expressive."
Yeah. We're currently running free roadshows in 34 towns and cities across New Zealand, with my mate Deon. The roadshow is featuring training and suicide prevention. What are you talking about in these roadshows?
Yep, the roadshow is part of the BSM, which is the Building Systems Maintenance programme. This is their ninth year now, that they've been going around the country, and just providing information for builders out there, in terms of what's new in the game, what products are out there, etc. They've now included MATES in Construction, so that we can be part of that show, so it gives, I guess, people in the remote areas that we won't get a chance to get to, and gives them opportunity to come along and listen to what we have to offer in terms of mental wellness, suicide prevention. So that's why we deliver our 45 minute to 50 minutes general awareness training at those BSM seminars. And the feedback has been really, really good.
What are some of the common issues that you're hearing at the grassroots level?
The common issues that they're having is actually having a platform that they can express themselves. It's the first time that they've ever been in a situation with these subjects being discussed, on a level, especially in the remote areas. But giving them an opportunity where they can actually have a platform to talk to at this type of moment. A lot of our men are suffering in silence, especially in the rural areas, builders are number one, really, because they're so transient, they move so quickly from job to job. So it's been from them personally, they're just so grateful for us to be there to talk about the message.
We may not get a lot of conversation out of them, but when we do, we're there for a fair bit of time. I think the most important thing is really realising that they're so relieved that the subject's been brought to the forefront, and also just having that discussion. That's what's been really humbling, that these guys that are pretty much shaking our hands, and what does it look like for them moving forward more than anything?
Why do you think the suicide rate in our sector is so high?
I believe that the construction industry is the highest industry with the highest levels of suicides, because we have a whole different type of stresses that we go through. We have normal life events that everybody goes through. It could be finances, relationship problems, conflict, child custody matters, all those types of things. But there was a study done, just for the construction industry, and the question was asked, "What stresses you out within the industry?" So the industry came up with their own unique struggles really, like long working hours, a culture of heavy drinking, cultural bullying, a culture of not being allowed to talk about your issues.
We're the only industry that actually works ourselves out of a job, because once a build's finished, if the boss's or company hasn't secured another contract, basically, those boys are going to be out of work and income the following week. And we've been in situations where bosses walked into a meeting with the guys and said, "Six weeks, we're out." And you can just hear a pin drop. The faces are as long as gamba because of staring out in space because they don't know what they're going to be doing after six weeks.
So there are a whole heap of different issues, but those issues that affect and impact on us in terms of the construction industry, if you look at the normal life events, they impact on each other, as well. So if you're looking at long working hours, we start at stupid o’clock, finish at stupid o’clock, five, six, seven days a week, sometimes, that has an impact on your relationships. And that's what we're finding that's happening. And when we ask that question, guys are saying, "Yes, it impacts on our relationships." And when they hit the five week lockdown, a lot of those guys actually enjoyed being at home, because they got to spend time with their loved ones, their families, and time they'll never get back.
In the other cases, the guys would say they panicked because all they could think about was losing money, losing hours. They didn't know whether they would have a job to go back to. There's a whole lot of different factors that come into it. But we are a really, really unique industry with a whole different other lot of issues that we have to navigate around than everybody else.
Slade, and Richard, what have you learned that really surprises you?
No, I think the thing was interesting, from our point of view, especially for both of us, the level of engagement in regards to these guys heard our messaging and they agreed. I mean, they may have never said it in so many words, but when you get guys actually nodding, when you're talking about life events or you're talking about our industry and what pressures that look, they pretty much look at it and say, "That's pretty much on the money."
And when we give the skills across to what that looks like for our men to realise that, this is not about sitting down and just talking about the weather and talking about sport, what's happened on the weekend, this is really getting down to the nuts and bolts of how our guys are travelling, especially when these workloads come on. We know that our industry can be in a situation where we work ourselves to redundancy. We're the only organisation where you look at it, the only time they ever celebrate anything is when they have a roof shout, and anything else besides that, it's just really figuring out where they have to go to the next job.
And that's the reason why having these opportunities to have a talk on these road shows, to show them that there is, one, you have to validate your feelings and what that looks like. Two, that you can have the trust, or you can trust enough in regards to the systems that we have here and realise those and actually say, "Hey, at the end the day, we've got to call our guys out," because we know what struggles look like, we know what the body language looks like. We know when someone is actually talking quite negative and the way that they conduct themselves, let alone how they interact with each other.
So if we can understand those invitations, we can actually start to build a better relationship with these guys actually looking out for each other and take a bit of care and making sure that if they get the help that they need, it's there. And we're just given them a vehicle or our 0800 number so they have the ability to do that. There is that stigma about, I mean, talking is not one of their strong suits. But for us two really big guys to actually stand up in front of these men, and say, "Hey, if we can do it together, as a combination like myself and Richie, surely you'll be able to do that as well." And that's all we're doing.
We're just trying to give these guys the encouragement, that it's okay not to be okay, but to get the help that you need when things aren't going too well as you'd like it, or as we say, when the house of cards starts falling around you and you just don't know where to turn.
In terms of our females involved in the construction industry, we need a lot more obviously, because we know that it's a male dominated industry. We know also that 99% of those that suicide within the industry are males. When we get our females attending, it's great because they bring a different perspective. Women talk a lot more, that's why the figures... One of the factors is that the figures between male female are lower with females because then they will talk about their feelings, they will talk about emotions.
Something that Slade alluded to just earlier, males do not want to talk about those things. And this is our challenge, is to encourage our men to speak up about their feelings and their emotions. Like Slade was saying, if he and I can talk to each other about our feelings, our emotions have a bit of a cry now and again, then why can't anybody else? So we've learned this, we've learned it was important to be able to set the standard as well.
So when we're getting in front of a group of people, whether it's male, female, or predominantly male, and we're talking about these sort of things, and putting ourselves in a vulnerable position, it's okay. I'm okay with it, because if that means that someone else, someone within that audience is going to reach out and say, "Oh, thank you, bro, I need help." Or, "I'm a survivor, as well." As long as they reach out and start talking to you, that's great.
And what our females do is they bring that perspective as they can talk, and they bring a lighter side to the industry. I've noticed that many, many times that when, if I'm having a discussion with one of the brothers, and a female is involved, they tend to be more open. The guys tend to be more open. It just brings a different wairua or spirit to the conversation, where they're a lot more relaxed.
And so, we need more females involved. They're quite a lot of women in terms of administration and management, but we need more women actually on the ground, within the trenches. And that's where we're going to see a lot of change, if we can get more females working with our guys in the trenches, we may see a big change in terms of the attitude, in terms of the guys starting to speak up more. But that is a huge challenge for myself, Slade and the rest of our field officers is to encourage men to talk.
If you or one of your mates is struggling with mental health issues, what do you suggest that you should do?
Okay, if you're struggling, here's the thing that we want you to do, the best thing is to tell somebody and tell somebody the best way that you can. I know, like I said, it is difficult for men to say that they are struggling. But if you're struggling, here's three simple words, "I need help. I'm not okay." If we can get into the habit of saying that, and have the courage to say that... But talk to people that you actually trust, because trust is the key here. If you're talking to somebody that you don't trust and that message gets around the work site that somebody's struggling, that can cause a huge amount of damage.
And once you've broken their trust, you'll never get it back. And that person may not trust anybody else. Therefore, it could be potentially a life and death situation, and I don't say that lightly, it can potentially cause it. So if you are struggling guys, see somebody that you trust, just tell them, I should say, "I'm struggling. I need someone to talk to." And just have that conversation, have the courage to say that because it is difficult for me to say those sort of things.
I think the thing is, if our guys are struggling, we've got that 0800 number and we encourage them to use it. We know that sometimes they use it because of the mere fact that sometimes their trust issue of the people that they have around them, they can talk to a complete stranger, and that's who they get on the line. Plus, we call a spade a spade, so we allow our guys to actually vent the way that they need to, and then we start getting to the bottom of it and start moving it in the direction that we can get the help that they need.
Like everything that we do, sometimes it's just the ability to actually have that conversation. But sometimes it's just the mere fact that sometimes they just need that extra help that's actually needed, as we actually have those conversations. Like we always say to our men, a problem shared is a problem halved, and the more that we can keep on addressing those things, the better. Sometimes just sharing it with a complete stranger like ourselves or Richie, on the end of a line, sometimes is very helpful. But if we know that it has to go a level higher than us, then we start moving it into the direction where it needs to go.
From where we sit, we have been very fortunate enough with our case managers, or Gloria, who's taking care of that sector has had some great inroads with these people, seeing a bit of advice given, and where that's led to. So to try and release the stress that they're trying to go through, maybe not instantaneous, but is something that it has the ability to keep on working over time. So that's my way of attacking it because I think you said everything from the beginning.
A lot of our guys out there that are struggling, they'll mask it. We're not going to be able to eliminate suicide in our communities, and our construction industry, we're not going to be able to do that. But what we can do is we can minimise the risk of harm, minimise the risk of injury and death by communicating. And we call it through connection, communication and collaboration. And if we do that, like on forums like this, if we're talking about this sort of stuff, getting it out there, we connect, and we communicate, and we collaborate, we are saving lives.
And we've all really had that experience, and we've already seen how these formulas actually work, and they are working, and this is 12 months down the track. So we're hoping in 10 years time that we'll have a significant reduction in our suicide rates within the construction industry, but of course of all of Aotearoa New Zealand, itself.
Welcome now, Pam, from Naylor Love, Bronwyn from Watercare, and Georgina from Kāinga Ora, who are going to talk about work that they've implemented working with MATES in Construction on their programmes.
Hi, I'm Pam McGarry from Naylor Love construction, who is a national construction company employing over 700 staff. And I head up the people and culture aspect of the business. The wellbeing of our people is fundamental to who we are as an organisation, we care about our people. And this motivated Naylor Love to become a premium partner, and advocate for MATES in Construction.
Pam, can you tell us about the work that you're doing alongside MATES in Construction?
We recognise and acknowledge that the rate of suicide in our sector is unacceptably high. We've been involved with MATES since the Steering Committee was established in 2019, and industry decided something had to change. And we needed support for construction workers across the industry in New Zealand. So this isn't just the site guys, it's the managers that support those people as well. So from leadership, from the CEO, right down, we believe everyone should be part of MATES in Construction.
MATES is a highly effective programme, and is getting the message really out there to the people and is making a positive difference to the industry's culture to minimise the stigma that we know that exists associated with mental health. And giving people the right tools and the willingness to have those essential conversations with people where they may have not wished to be there in the past. Yeah, it's about having that open conversation around mental health and suicide. Naylor Love has over 850 people attend GAT training sessions on our sites around the country.
As Sylvia Park alone, we had over 250 people attend the GAT training with 68 people volunteering to be connectors. So that's how powerful it can be when you get out there and in front of people. It was excellent what the MATES programme is doing and delivering it to the site to everybody, not just Naylor Love, we're talking to all our subcontractors as well. And it's reassuring that everyone is being covered and can get the help that they need.
It was interesting, I was at one GAT session and it was very humbling. One guy, who was a subcontractor, stood up and shared his story of how he tried to commit suicide. And it was his mates that got him through. Well, that was such a powerful story and people were walking away, and started sharing stories about their times that they've not felt that great. So, the more we share the stories, the more we can reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. So, MATES are doing an amazing job and we've just got to keep behind them and support them as much as possible.
What difference do you think the MATES in Construction programme has made to your workplace?
Well, MATES has complimented our well being framework. And we are very fortunate to have an EAP programme in place, which is well utilised. And since we've introduced MATES, we've noticed even in the last quarter, referral rates have increased, that the last quarter increased by 3.2%, with most of the common reason seeking help, was mental health. So I believe MATES has helped people feel more comfortable about seeking help and going for referral to our EAP programme.
Staff have commented to me about MATES, how it's helped them outside of work, in fact, with family members and friends who needed support, where in the past, they felt uncomfortable having that conversation, where now it's influenced them to just go and have a conversation and say, "Are you okay?" So it's not just affecting the industry, it's affecting our communities as a whole. We're starting to hear more and say more about acceptance of discussions around mental health issues and work. And I get calls saying, "Hey, so and so's not feeling that great. I'm going to have this conversation."
They're going out there and having conversations now. So yeah, we're really happy with the progress we're making along with MATES. The programme has been really well received all around the business. I think I'd like to finish off, I'd like to acknowledge and thank MATES in Construction and Victoria and her team for the hard work and passion and determination they've got to make a difference to the industry. And we, with all our continuous support to do the right thing to look after each other, I'm sure we'll see a move in the right direction around mental health and acceptance of people that may not be travelling that well. So, hats go off to MATES in Construction. And yeah, they just keep doing what they're doing, because it's an amazing job.
Hi, my name is Bronwyn Struthers, and I'm the head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing for Watercare.
Bronwyn, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you're doing alongside MATES in Construction?
Yeah. Our project identified early that the success of the project really was going to be determined by the people who work on that project. So we need them to bring their best to work every day. And we know that mental health is not always as good as what we want it to be. And sadly, in New Zealand, there seems to be an issue around it. So we have built a framework for our people, which is based around care and the alignment with MATES in Construction was obvious. That's what they help us provide is care for our team.
I think for workers, they often create environments in the workplaces where they are like a family. And like in a family, sometimes there are things we don't talk about. But what MATES has helped us to do for our workers is to give them some tools, and give them the confidence to talk about how they're feeling, or let their mates at work know when they're not at their best, and to reach out for some help when they need it. The other thing that MATES has been doing, we've been doing alongside our MATES in Construction field officers in particular, is to build the confidence of our supervisors and our frontline leaders.
Often, frontline leaders are aware that there's something going on with someone at work but don't know how to approach it or don't know how to raise it, or what they should do. They know that they can use an external employee assistance programme, but that's a little bit far away from the individual. What Richie does, is that he has spent time on our sites regularly and he does that. So our workers see him all the time, he's become part of the whanau and they know him and feel comfortable talking to him. Supervisors also know that he's there, and through the general awareness training, they understand that raising issues or asking the question, "How are you? You don't seem yourself." They know that that's an okay thing to do. In fact, it's a really important thing to do.
And I've got some tips about how to start those conversations or the environment to make that okay. But also, they know that if they feel like they can be getting in over their heads, that they've got the backup of being able to reach out to Richie or to MATES and ask for a bit of extra help as well. One of the things that we have done that I think has made the programme work for us is that we've incorporated the general awareness training, which every worker on the project gets. We've incorporated them into our induction. So it means that everyone understands, from day one, that we are a family, that we care for each other, and that it's okay in our workplace to talk about how you're feeling and to ask for help from others.
The MATES in Construction programme seeks to change culture and improve knowledge to help prevent suicide. What difference do you think MATES in Construction programmes have made to your workplace?
We're working within the project to develop a culture where our team feels that they can be their best every day. And MATES works alongside us to develop that culture, by strengthening the relationships, and strengthening the skills within our work group to talk about sensitive or difficult issues. That can be personal issues, but it helps us also have other conversations. So when you build a skill to have a conversation that's a little bit difficult or tricky, which with MATES, we're living to do that around mental health, but when you build that skill, you can also transfer it to other situations.
So it also helps us have some of those other difficult conversations that you sometimes need to have in the workplace but might avoid because you're not sure how to do it. So I think MATES really is helping us build a better people culture, a stronger whanau, a stronger relationship between workers, leading hands supervisors, and also for us, between our contractor and us as a client. I found it very reassuring to know that Richie is there to help us, not to take over what we're doing, but he's there to support and that he supports our workers. And we can go to him and talk about anything and he makes it easy for us to talk about this stuff.
Kia ora koutou, my name is Georgina Ellis, I am the Manager of Social Outcomes here at Kāinga Ora.
Georgina, what are you doing to work alongside the work of MATES in Construction?
Health and wellbeing within Kāinga Ora has really become of prime importance. And in addition to that, we are actually now New Zealand's largest residential build partner. And alongside being a government agency, we want to take on the responsibility of influencing and contributing to the construction industry to actually increase wellbeing, increase skills and construction workers being able to support each other and get support when they want it. So when MATES in Construction came to New Zealand, which was October last year, we started working with them really from the word go.
We knew that the programme had worked really effectively in Australia. I was particularly interested in it because it had been built by industry, for industry and alongside academics and using really strong research. And as the programme had been developed over the last decade in Australia, they had adapted it to improve it even further. And then alongside that, working with Victoria and the team at MATES in Construction, they're totally dedicated to influencing culture change within the industry and certainly helping suicide prevention.
So it was a bit of a no brainer, because there they were, they kind of had a really good programme that worked for the industry, we really wanted to make our contribution. And so we came together at the beginning of this year, we signed a formal partnership where we're sponsoring MATES in Construction for two years, where we are paying for two people working at Mates in Construction to work across all of our build sites in New Zealand, all of our build sites that construct state homes.
And so we started sort of planning to roll out the programme right at the beginning of the year. So really, we wanted to find out the best way that we could roll this out. So we sat down, we actually did workshops with several of our three or four build partners that we knew were really behind this and had done sort of slightly similar things. We'd been working with them quite a lot before around the social outcome stuff. So we sat down and did workshops with them, helping them understand what the programme was and how it could contribute to the industry and mental wellbeing.
And then we went, "Okay, well what's the best way to roll this out?" So we basically hatched a plan together, and together rolled it out across build sites for these three or four build partners. And as time has rolled on, we've also worked alongside our health and safety team, we've got a very large health and safety team that work across all of our sites. And so, they have been working really closely with Slade McFarlane, who's our field officer, and Gloria as well, who's been doing a lot of the planning so that we're now rolling it out with approximately 10 build partners across Auckland, and now starting to plan for rolling it out in Christchurch and then Wellington and then to the other regions.
Very much like everyone, we've had COVID that we've needed to work around. Anyone will tell you that that really messed around with how we could roll this out, particularly with the requirement to have as few as possible people in the same place. So that has slowed things down a wee bit, but at the same time, MATES in Construction, they were just fantastic around that point. We kind of said, "We'd really love some stuff to help our build partners and the site supervisors to be able to support the people to cope with this change that's going on." So they pulled together a resource pack that went out to all of our build partners.
We were connecting with our build partners to say, "Look, get in touch with these guys." So even though they couldn't roll out the more structured programme, they were making real contributions to wellbeing and building those skills to be able to support mates supporting each other within our builds across New Zealand.
What difference do you think the MATES in Construction programme has made to your workplace?
That's a really good question. And what I will say is when we say our workplace, are we talking about our build sites? So thus far, we have got overwhelmingly positive feedback from our build partners that have participated on this. They're completely behind it. And what is also happening is what they're saying is happening on site, is that people are now having conversations about wellbeing. People feel comfortable to say, "I'm struggling," or people feel comfortable to say, "Hey mate, are you okay?" And in fact, I think we've heard stories about people over asking initially, after they go through that initial general awareness training, the first step in the programme.
So that's been fantastic. We've had real buy-in around flying the flag, which is sort of a reminder for everybody working on sites to look after each other. The MATES in Construction guys are really embedding themselves into our build sites. They go into toolkit, not toolkit, sorry, their toolbox meetings on site. And so you've just got this quite considerable building of skills from quite a really low base. The industry has quite significant issues around mental wellbeing and being able to support mental wellbeing. So we're seeing quite a significant difference, or we're hearing that there's quite a significant difference in the way that people are supporting each other on site.
Hi, everybody. I'm Roger McRae, I'm on the Construction Sector Accord. And I'm also the co-chair of the Health, Safety and Wellness Working Group, which is one of the key initiatives of the Construction Sector Accord. I'm also the chair at CHASNZ, Construction Health & Safety New Zealand. I want to thank all of the speakers today for sharing their stories. The conversation we have today must be continued, it has to be continued. We must encourage people to speak up and to talk about their feelings and ask for help.
We currently don't have enough information about our sector, and how that suffers from poor mental health. But what we do know is the MATES in Construction programme will provide workers with much needed help in the short and long term and valuable research. As an industry, we must come together to deliver a meaningful reduction in suicides in the construction industry. As Victoria said, there is a desperate need for MATES in Construction services. I agree with Victoria, the construction sector is a great industry, but we need to take ownership of the issues that were being discussed today.
As a first step, I would encourage everybody in the construction industry to attend a free suicide prevention roadshow for construction workers. That is, will feature training in suicide prevention. The roadshow is visiting 34 towns across New Zealand. And there's information on the towns and cities that will be visited on the screen and the website for more information. So what we have learned here today is that it's okay to ask for help. Richie used three very powerful words, "I need help."
Let's not be afraid to ask for help, and let's encourage others to ask for help. Let's keep this conversation alive. Finally, if anybody wants help or wants to pass on where to find help, here are some of the details. If you have any questions about the content presented today, and send your questions to the Accord email. We will have a summary of this webinar and answers to any questions asked on the Accord website. Visit www.constructionaccord.nz. Thanks everybody. Keep well.
The other thing alongside that is that part of what MATES in Construction does is they support and advocate for people that may be really struggling. And already they have helped a number of people that are working on our sites who may have been really struggling and have walked alongside them, helped them find the right help, support them to continue getting that help and support them out the other side, to the point where people have kind of certainly returned back to feeling like they can get on with things quite well. And as far as I'm concerned, that's just an absolute win. Yeah.